A Fairy Godmother With A Paintbrush

Shelby Johnson
Shelby Johnson doesn't look like she's got a life-threatening illness — or sound like it.

"I have a disease called juvenile dermatomyositis, and I cannot spell it so please don't ask me to," Shelby said.

In short — it severely weakens your muscles and attacks your immune system. A case of the flu could be fatal. And yet this 19-year-old Memphis girl who loves to paint says she's actually glad she has this potentially fatal disease — because, she says, it's given her a reason for living.

Her story began five years ago, when life wasn't such a pretty picture, CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman reports for Assignment America.

"I would just — I decided that I would rather be in heaven where I could run and not be weary and walk and not have trouble. nd not have to worry about holding a paintbrush anymore," she said.

"I really though we were going to lose Shelby," said Karen, her mom. "She couldn't do anything. She couldn't paint, so she got sad, and the sadder she got, the sicker she got."

That's where Make a Wish came into the picture.

Shelby really wanted to go to Paris.

"If you're an artist, where else are you going to go?" Shelby said.

In May 2002, a smiling Shelby sat in her wheelchair during a whirlwind tour. She and her family did the cathedrals, the monuments, the fine dining ...

"We went to Planet Hollywood for dinner," she said. "We were such dorks."

They had a blast. But what really turned her life around was what happened after they got home. The Make A Wish Foundation asked Shelby if she would be willing to auction off some of her paintings to sponsor other wishes.

And right then, the light bulb went off.

"It was like that was what I needed to do; to use my artwork to be able to help other children," she said.

Her first was Brittany.

Then came Alexa and Lucas.

She's paid for five so far — raising nearly $30,000.

"It gave me life again," she said. "It game me the ability to look at the world optimistically again."

Does she realize that if she lives to be 70 or 80 years old how many wishes she could grant?

"That would be so cool, I could grant like 500!" she laughed.

Shelby has an online auction going on right now — so if you want to see more of her work or make a bid, click here.