Artist lends tal­ents to fam­ily with med­i­cal is­sues

Lo­cal artist helps Lusby fam­ily through chil­dren’s med­i­cal is­sues

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL REID mreid@somd­news.com Twitter: @SOMDhab­s­fan

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.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY MICHAEL REID

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.

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