Patient stories

Artist honours caregivers while lifting spirits of other patients

Written by Nadia Radovini

When 16-year-old budding artist Jessica Rotolo first arrived at Sunnybrook for a dermatology appointment in 2014, she was no stranger to clinical settings.

As a teen with Down syndrome, she had her fair share of appointments and therapies growing up. But this time was different. She was unrecognizable to herself.

That year, her normally long flowing brown hair started to suddenly and rapidly fall out – a condition known as Alopecia Areata. Although it’s unclear what caused its onset for Jessica, she and her family think it may have been related to an adverse reaction to a medication she had taken.

Despite the traumatic experience of suddenly losing her hair, in particular during her first year of high school, Jessica tried to stay positive. Sunnybrook dermatologist Dr. Perla Lansang worked with Jessica to try various treatments, and eventually helping her to locate an industry clinical trial in 2019 that would work for her as her beautiful hair started to grow back.

Also that year (2019), her father, Joe, had successful heart surgery at Sunnybrook. Jessica was so moved by the care she and her father received. “I am grateful to all the doctors (healthcare workers) that heal everyone who is not feeling well,” says Jessica. “They fixed my Dad’s heart and helped me grow my hair back.”

It was around that time when her mother told her about the artwork she saw on some ceiling tiles “when my dad went in to have a test done on his heart,” says Jessica.

Together, they learned that The Sunnybrook Ceiling Tile Project is a program that decorates the ceilings of the hospital with tiles painted by hospital volunteers, local artists, mature students and patients, and donors sponsor a ceiling tile to brighten the lives of Sunnybrook’s patients, families and staff.

Jessica didn’t skip a beat with this opportunity seemingly designed for her, and her mission was born to thank the care teams who cared for her and her father, by giving back through her art.

“I wanted to show my art this way, so when people looked up, they would say ‘Isn’t that pretty’, and think of their healthcare workers who helped them get better,” she says.

The pandemic postponed things for a while, and in that time, Jessica’s artistry, as well as her advocacy as a public figure for the Down syndrome community, continued to grow, as did her work as a model and actress.

She was thrilled to recently get back to her mission to thank the care teams at Sunnybrook with a goal of also uplifting the spirits of patients as they undergo, or wait, for their medical care.

Using the signature heart design she applies to much of her art, Jessica created two new pieces of artwork for the ceiling tile project: one entitled “Thank You For Your Helping Hands”, and the other called “Love You To Pieces”.

Jessica at printing shop

Jessica’s art is silk screened to a tile at Kid Icarus

She recently delivered two of the ceiling tiles to the Dermatology department, located at Sunnybrook’s Bayview campus, where the tiles can be seen brightening the waiting room for patients and their families awaiting their appointments.

Jessica Rotolo with Shelley Racicot

Sunnybrook’s manager of Dermatology, Shelley Racicot, receives Jessica’s donation on behalf of the Dermatology team.

“I was so excited and proud when I saw them go up on the ceiling,” says Jessica. “I love that so many people will look up and enjoy my art.”

Jessica Rotolo looks on as a tile is installed by a maintenance worker

A tile is installed in the Dermatology waiting area

Since the installation, Jessica’s mother has also received care at Sunnybrook – at the Holland Centre – where she had hip replacement surgery.

Plans are underway to deliver more of Jessica’s art tiles to cardiac surgery at the Bayview campus, as well as orthopaedic surgery at the Holland Centre.

Jessica Rotolo stands with two tiles

Artist Jessica Rotolo with the two designs she curated for Sunnybrook. #ThisPlaceIsSpecial because our patients give back.

Sunnybrook’s Ceiling Tile Project

The Ceiling Tile Project is a program coordinated by Sunnybrook’s Volunteers and the Gift Shop who arrange for the creation, installation, maintenance and sponsorship of these tiles. Funds raised from sponsorship of the tiles help support patient care and comfort projects at the hospital.

Tile sponsorship starts at $125 and includes a plaque adjacent to the tile identifying the sponsor and a dedication if the sponsor desires it. Tax receipts are issued.

Sponsors can also request a printed card for themselves, friends, or family, displaying the artwork on the tile along with their dedication message, and information about the tile and our program.

Sponsor a ceiling tile


About the author

Nadia Radovini

Nadia Norcia Radovini is a communications advisor at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

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