Artist lends talents to family with medical issues
Local artist helps Lusby family through children’s medical issues
Sarah Baxter can’t even begin to count the number of times she and her 11-month-old daughter, Paisley, have been approached and received comments on the youngster’s football helmet-like headgear.
“I’d hear things like ‘What’s wrong with your baby?’ or ‘What’s wrong with her head?,’” said Baxter, a Lusby homemaker. “It was just mind-boggling.”
Both Paisley and her brother, Landon, now 3, were diagnosed with plagiocephaly and facial asymmetry at a very young age. But with the help of a local artist, the siblings’ headgear used to help correct the problem is now more interesting than odd-looking.
According to www.cranialtech.com, plagiocephaly, which is sometimes referred to as flat head syndrome, “is a relatively common condition where an infant develops a flat spot on the back or side of the head. Many factors can cause flat spots. A baby’s skull is very soft and pressure from everyday surfaces, such as beds or car seats, can cause misshaping.”
The website added that the condition is also accompanied by a combination of facial asymmetry, ear shifting and forehead sloping or bulging.”
Baxter said facial asymmetry can cause jaw misalignment, which can result in a cross-bite or under-bite; the ears may become misaligned and can cause chronic ear infections because the ear canal is shifted.
Landon, who was born seven weeks premature, also developed a severe case of torticollis.
According to Cranial Technologies, “Congenital Muscular Torticollis, also known as ‘wry neck,’ is a condition in which an infant has an abnormally tight, shortened neck muscle that causes the head to tilt to one side and the chin to rotate towards the opposite shoulder. Babies with torticollis have a limited range of neck motion and tend to hold their head in the same position, which often leads to plagiocephaly. It’s estimated that over 80 percent of babies who have torticollis have plagiocephaly, as well.”
The family pediatrician told Sarah and her husband, Mike, a longtime employee at a local restaurant, the head would form out on its own, but the couple disagreed and went to Cranial Technologies in Annandale, Va., to get a second opinion and doctors there recommended a DOC Band.
A DOC Band — which resembles a leather football helmet — is made of lightweight foam equipped with straps to shape the baby’s head by redirecting growth into desired areas and constricting growth into other areas. Though some doctors say the bands are used primarily for cosmetic reasons, Baxter was told by the clinicians at Cranial Technologies that this was not the case and that both kids needed one.
Landon wore two bands for a total of almost nine months until just after he was a year old.
To most people it would seem as though Paisley — clad in a bleached white, soft foam helmet — was waiting patiently for football season to start. For others, not so much.
“You’d get a lot of little kids who would stare and ask lots of questions,” said Baxter, whose family also includes daughter Kayla, 11, son Michael, 9, and daughter Sienna, 4. “Honestly, a lot of times you’d have kids staring and parents would say, ‘No, don’t stare,’ and the kid would say something to the effect of ‘What is that?’ I would go out of my way to go over and tell the kid about it because I’d much rather somebody ask questions and be educated about it than stare or even make fun of what they don’t understand. I think it is terrible how we have this whole don’t-stare-taboo-thing when it comes to people having disabilities or orthotics, because I’d much rather have people ask questions to get educated instead of not asking.”
The Baxters balked when the price tag from multiple artists to customize Landon’s band was in the $300 range, so Sarah reached out to Facebook, where a friend introduced her to local artist Molly Hewitt, who readily agreed to do the work.
Hewitt, a graduate of Leonardtown High School, took a graphic arts course at the Dr. James A. Forrest Career And Tecnology Center and is the owner of Molly’s Sign Shop in St. Mary’s City, and she jumped at the chance to help out at no charge.
“I enjoy giving back to the community,” Hewitt said recently in her home office, “and this was one way to do that. I knew it was going to be a challenge but I love children.”
Hewitt painted two DOC Bands for Landon, complete with a construction theme — which included a backhoe and “Under Construction” banner — and, when he outgrew that one, a farm theme that included a tractor, plow, barn and farm animals. Hewitt painted the strap to resemble an ear of corn.
A hair-raising experience
When Paisley needed to wear a DOC Band as well, Baxter and Hewitt agreed she would look perfect in a band that resembled her own hairstyle.
Hewitt first checked Paisley’s facial skin tone and matched it to an area on her own body, which she found on the inside of her wrist. Aided by numerous photos and emails, Hewitt first scuffed the helmet with a fine-grain sandpaper so the paint would adhere, and then spent more than five hours painting the hair strand by strand. The whole process took Hewitt almost 10 hours.
“With her hair it was just [a matter of] referencing the photos,” Hewitt said. “I was happy with how it turned out.”
Later, she added several layers of clear coat to avoid chipping or flaking.
“Molly is an incredible artist with a huge heart,” Baxter said.
“It makes me feel happy to do that for them,” Hewitt said.
Baxter said the difference with the public has been like night and day.
“Before her band was painted [strangers were] like, ‘What’s that for?’” Baxter said. “And then after it was painted I got a lot of ‘Wow, that’s beautiful. Did you do that?’ It was much more positive and even before they would ask what it was for, conversations would start with how beautiful it was and how great it looked.”
Paisley wore a DOC Band for a total of 10 weeks — bands at her age generally last 14 to 16 weeks — until she outgrew it a few weeks ago, and the family is planning another appointment at Cranial Technologies to outfit her for another band, which Hewitt said she’d be more than happy to paint.
Though Hewitt came through with the art on the DOC Bands, the insurance claims on the band itself are another matter. The bands cost $4,000 each and, though Landon’s headgear was covered through their insurance, Baxter said the claims for Paisley’s DOC Band — soon to be two — have been turned down. The family has started a GoFundMe account (www. gofundme.com/paisleysdoc-band) to help defray costs.
Sarah Baxter, left, and daughter Paisley, now 11 months, who wears her DOC Band that was painted by Leonardtown artist Molly Hewitt.
Paisley Baxter of Lusby in her DOC band, which was painted by Historic St. Mary’s City artist Molly Hewitt.
Artist Molly Hewitt, shown in her St. Mary’s City home office, volunteered to paint two DOC Bands for Landon Baxter and one for older sister Paisley. Landon’s headgear had a construction theme while the other had a farm theme. Paisley’s was painted with her hair color.