Artist Turns Corrective Helmets Worn by Babies With Flat Head Syndrome Into Art

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An artist from Washington is bringing smiles to babies and their parents, one helmet at a time.

Cranial plagiocephaly, or flat head syndrome, is a common condition in infants and affects about half of babies in their first year of life. Fortunately, it doesn’t cause significant medical ramifications and is treatable with a specialized helmet that an infant will wear for weeks or months. But these helmets usually come in a bland white and don’t have the usual colorful appearance of clothing and accessories made for infants.

More than a decade ago, artist Paula Strawn was approached by a friend whose granddaughter was prescribed one of the helmets and asked if she could make it a bit more fun.

“I had never seen a baby with a helmet before this time and they quickly explained what it was for,” Strawn, 62, tells PEOPLE. “I was a little intimidated as I hadn’t painted on anything like this before but it went well and they were very happy.”

Strawn was living in Southern California at the time, and after painting the helmet for her friend, she quickly began to get inquiries from other parents who wanted to stylize the helmets for their babies.

Soon, requests snowballed in from across the state, then from around the country.

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“Within the year it was my main painting work for folks all over Southern California and within a couple years I started hearing from folks around the states,” she recalls. “The last few years it’s been my full-time business. I get helmets shipped me to daily from all over the country.”

Strawn, who now lives in Washington, says she has painted more than 3,200 helmets in the 15 years since she painted her first one.

She frequently posts her paintings to her Instagram page, which features helmets designed with bright flowers, cartoon characters, sports team logos and other colorful pictures.

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“It’s a fun, friendly and personal design that brings smiles to baby and a chance for parents to have a conversation about the helmet instead of pity [from others],” Strawn says. “Smiles are always preferable over pity!”

The helmets, depending on the design, can take anywhere between three hours to 12 hours to finish, and Strawn uses water-based non-toxic paint. Naturally, the longer it takes to paint, the more expensive the job will come out to, but the average cost ranges from $220 to $300 per helmet. Strawn also gives discounts to those in the military and twin helmets.

“I feel blessed beyond all belief to be doing this work, helping others and bringing tons of smiles to babies,” Strawn says. “Looking back on my life, I feel that I was led to do this. It feels more like a calling than a job.”

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