As a neglected child, movies saved the day


Robert Mesa, who played Tecumseh in the History Channel’s “Frontiersmen,” calmly talks about the time he got ink poisoning from a tattoo on his left arm that he knew, being Navajo, he shouldn’t get.

It was a tattoo of an owl on a peony flower—his favorite flower.

Navajo Times | Ravonelle Yazzie
Robert Mesa

Mesa got the tattoo because it was one of the only things he learned from his biological parents about Soboba culture.

“In Soboba, I was told that owls are good luck when I was a little boy,” Mesa said. “It was one of the last things my biological parents told me before everything. I just had that engrained in my brain. But I know, being half Navajo, ‘You’re asking for it.’”

This tattoo in homage to his Soboba culture was supposed to bring luck but instead left him in the hospital for a little over two months. Doctors were unsure of what was ailing the healthy 25–year-old actor and model.

The hospital was so confused by his symptoms, which were facial swelling, lesions, and eventually paralysis, that they quarantined him. Anyone entering his hospital room had to wear masks, gloves and be covered from head to toe.

“I got ink poisoning from this tattoo,” he said. “It broke down my whole body. I was in the hospital for a while. On the third day, I lost motor function to my entire body.

“Then, my lips turned black. My fingertips turned blacked. My face swelled up. I had lesions all over my face. By the end of the third, day my throat closed up. I couldn’t eat or anything. I lost a ton of weight too.”

After a week in the hospital, they still didn’t know what to do.

“On the sixth day, because they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, they had overdosed me with morphine and my heart stopped,” he said. “They had to use the defibrillator.”

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Categories: Arts

About Author

Pauly Denetclaw

Pauly Denetclaw is Meadow People born for Towering House People. She was raised in Manuelito and Naschitti, New Mexico. She was the co-recipient of the Native American Journalist Association's 2016 Richard LaCourse Award for Investigative Reporting. Denetclaw is currently finishing her degree in multimedia journalism from the University of New Mexico - Main. Denetclaw covers a range of topics including genetic research, education, health, social justice issues and small businesses. She loves coffee, writing and being with her family. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Her handle is @pdineclah