Child Artist Program Illustrates the Power of Giving

Nothing illustrates the reason Golisano Children’s Hospital is the primary beneficiary of the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest better than the child artist program.

Each year for the past 12 years, a young patient of Golisano Children’s Hospital has been selected to create a one-of-a-kind work of art to be auctioned off during the festival. The child artists’ stories are incredibly moving, and their works precious reflections of their individual personalities, hopes and dreams.

Auction participants have fallen in love in these works year after year, bidding generously to support the patients of Golisano Children’s Hospital. Bids for the artwork will start at $5,000. Traditionally, the works are then donated back to the hospital, depicting the healing power of art, as well as the generosity it inspires, in a gallery where medical staff, patients, families and visitors can glean inspiration from these images.

Meet Our 2020 Child Artist Ellie O’Neal

The Art of Healing

This year’s child artist is one-year-old patient Eleanor “Ellie” O’Neal, who was born at just 23 weeks gestation, weighing only 1 pound, 3 ounces. A “micro-preemie,” Ellie was born while still inside her amniotic sac, which likely protected her during her unexpected, early arrival. 

“Ellie likes pink!” exclaimed big brother Connor repeatedly during the 2020 Child Art painting session. The “astute” 4-year-old seems to know, even appreciate, that his little sister Ellie can see the bright colors on their painting. An enduring source of support for Ellie is her big brother, Connor, is always looking over her. 

Yes, she sees pink. She sees everything. And that’s a miracle.

At their daughter’s birth, Ellie’s parents, Brendan and Christine O’Neal, faced an unthinkable decision – to allow doctors to resuscitate Ellie, or to provide comfort care. “They said comfort care might be the only chance for me to hold her,” remembers Ellie’s mom, Christine. “Doctors painted a difficult picture for Ellie. If she survived, she would likely face a multitude of complications – cerebral palsy, brain bleeds, blindness, or she might not make it at all.”

Her parents chose lifesaving intervention and Ellie’s fight began.

Ellie experienced complications not uncommon for a micro-preemie. She suffered a brain bleed and a diagnosis of aggressive Retinopathy of Prematurity or ROP for short. The lower the gestational age and birth weight, the greater the risk of severe, sight-threatening disease or blindness from ROP. This grim outlook didn’t stop Dr. Jessica Kovarik, pediatric opthalmologist at Golisano Children’s Hospital, from doing her best to save Ellie’s sight. As a result, Ellie defied the odds and today, she has “normal” vision.

Rachel Pierce, morning news anchor on NBC-2 and artist served as the artist mentor this year and guided Ellie and her brother, Connor, to create “Do You See What I See?” – a painting that celebrates her miraculous recovery and brighter possibilities for the children in Southwest Florida.

“Children are so vulnerable,” says Rachel. “They need us to serve as the advocates who can help them start life on the right foot.”

SWFL Children’s Charities’ child artist program celebrates the art of healing. Each year a young patient of Golisano Children’s Hospital has been selected to create a one-of-a-kind work of art to be auctioned off during the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest. The child artist program has raised more than $1 million over the years, 100% of which benefits pediatric care at Golisano Children’s Hospital. The art is traditionally donated back to the hospital, and many works can be viewed on display there.

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