The woman creating superhero helmets to brighten the lives of sick kids

A baby enduring any sort of medical treatment can be traumatic, sometimes even more so for the parents.

Stay at home mum and artist Paula Strawn, of Washington in the US, was introduced to her daughter’s teacher who had a granddaughter that wore a helmet.

Ms Strawn had never seen a baby wearing a helmet before, or “braces for the head” as she prefers to call them, and she jumped at the challenge to paint the plain looking medical device designed to help round out flat spots on the skull.

“I was a little intimidated as I hadn't painted on anything like this but it went well and they were very happy,” Ms Strawn told Yahoo News Australia.

Twin baby girls wearing Lazardo designed pink helmets.
When helmets are created for twins, Paula Strawn offers a discount. Source: @LazardoArt

When the little girl’s specialist orthotist Kevin Bitting saw the painted helmet on his young patient, he asked Ms Strawn if she could paint for more of his patients.

Word quickly spread about the decorated helmets through the help of the late Mr Bitting, who Ms Strawn credits as “her biggest cheerleader”.

The helmets she paints are usually worn by babies with plagiocephaly, also known as ‘flat parts on the skull’, the helmets are worn temporarily by babies to gently guide skull into a rounded shape and Mr Bitting thought painting them was a brilliant idea for both patient and parents.

“He felt that painting the helmet was something fun and friendly, and was a big help to parent's attitudes about the helmet, and the attitudes of those coming in contact with baby,” Ms Strawn said.

When orders started snowballing in from around the US, the former Californian quickly realised the need for her designs and how much her art helped the families struggling to deal with the obtrusive helmets.

She told Yahoo News that working with the families to create the designs is a “a little like therapy” and a personal experience.

”Sometimes a parent starts off very sad about their adorable bub having to wear a helmet and what will people think,” she said.

Once they start discussing colours and parents start to become hopeful, customising a helmet for their little one puts a smile on everyone’s face.

“A fun, friendly and personal design brings smiles to baby and a chance for parents to have a conversation about the helmet instead of pity,” Ms Strawn said.

Two babies with painted helmets. An aviator design (left) and a floral design right. Source: @LazardoArt
From aviator helmets for aspiring high flyers to pretty and pink for the little princesses, Lazardo art personalises the helmetsx for each parent. Source: @LazardoArt

Ms Strawn has now made over 3000 helmets over the past 13 years. Prices start at about $300.

The most requested design is the ‘aviator’ complete with wings and retro flight goggles, which can take around six hours to create and the more elaborate the design, the more hours of work go in to them.

The artist works quickly as the helmets are of a medical nature and she can have the helmet back to the family within two days.

“I start painting the second I receive the helmet and I don’t stop until it’s done,” she said.

“It’s a one day deal,” and with her husband, Mick Strawn working full-time on shipping the important devices out as soon as they dry, Ms Strawn can focus on the creative side.

The most difficult was a salute to music icon David Bowie and although she said portraits aren’t her strongest suit “the parents were thrilled and that’s what matters”.

Two of the artist's most difficult designs included David Bowie (left) and a recreation of the famous Starry Night (right) painting by Vincent van Gogh. Source: Lazardo Art Source: Lazardo Art
Two of the artist's most difficult designs included David Bowie (left) and a recreation of the famous Starry Night (right) painting by Vincent van Gogh. Source: Lazardo Art

Ms Strawn never dreamed she could make a full-time living as an artist. She shared that although creativity runs in her family she knew she would never be the type of artist that showed in a gallery, but she said decorating the helmets is more rewarding.

“I feel blessed beyond all belief to be doing this work, helping others and bringing tons of smiles to babies,” Ms Strawn said.

And while her full-time job is now painting helmets Ms Strawn told Yahoo that the rewards are worth more than any amount of money.

“I feel looking back on my life that I was led to do this, it feels more like a calling than a job,” she said.

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