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Monday, March 5, 2001

Pen-pal program links sick children

By Patricia Breakey
Delhi News Bureau

ARKVILLE — An Arkville mother and a Scottish artist have joined forces to launch "Pen Pals Across the Water," a program designed to forge links between chronically ill children.

Children on both sides of the Atlantic will share thoughts with newfound pen pals about what it's like to be sick and know that the children receiving the letters will understand.

Diana Rose-Miller, 65, began painting more than 25 years ago. She said her paintings reflect moods, feelings and movements. The swirling works reflect the seasons, skies, seas and winds.

Rose-Miller said she contracted tuberculosis when she was 4 years old. She was sent from her home in the Scottish highlands to a hospital in Edinburgh, where she was isolated from her family.

"I was alone and frightened," Rose-Miller said. "But I will never forget the beautiful ceiling in the hospital. It was blue with silver stars. Most people don't concentrate on ceilings, but I loved it and it made me calm."

Rose-Miller decided to paint an extremely colorful picture for the children's ward in the hospital where she spent so much time as a child. She said she hoped the painting would soothe them, in the same way the ceiling made her feel better.

"Children are like little hurricanes, always moving and busy," Rose-Miller said. "So I did a hurricane picture, with a lot of movement and color."

The painting was so well received by the children in the hospital that Rose-Miller began a series called the Hurricane Paintings and gave them all children's names. Now there are 12 "hurricanes" hanging in hospitals throughout England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland.

Hurricane Harvey is in Aberdeen, Hannah in Dundee, Flora in Edinburgh, Freddie in Glasgow, Rupert in Newcastle, Stardust Charlie in Manchester, Harriet in Liverpool, Hector in Belfast, Egbert in Cardiff, Hamish in Birmingham, Bertie in London and Herbert and the Little Hurricanes are in Bristol.

Rose-Miller decided to produce 50 limited-edition prints of each painting to be sold to raise money for medical research to help children.

Annmarie and Gene Rosa met Rose-Miller while traveling in Scotland. They purchased a print of Hurricane Rupert for their daughter, Rachel, who has Lyme disease and mercury poisoning.

Rose-Miller said Rachel wrote to her and told her she loved the painting, that she could feel the wind blowing and that it was a warm wind, not a cold wind.

Another memory of being ill as a child came to Rose-Miller. She remembered how much letters from family and friends meant to her while she was hospitalized.

"It was like a little light went off," said Annmarie Rosa. "The idea of using the paintings to allow sick children to help each other through letters and drawings."

The paintings were reproduced as postcards, with one of each print in a packet. Each child participating in "Pen Pals Across the Water" has a packet of postcards.

"We encourage the children to start the letter by describing how one of the paintings makes them feel," Rose-Miller said. "The first paragraph might say that the green swirl in Rupert reminds them of trees swaying in the wind. The child receiving the letter can look at their copy of the painting, and there is a link."

"We don't know what it's like to be the sick kid, always on the outside and isolated," Annmarie Rosa said. "But other ill children understand perfectly."

Rose-Miller linked Rachel with several other ill children across the ocean. The results were so positive, the decision was made to give other children the opportunity to support each other with letters.

Rose-Miller traveled to New York on Saturday to donate another painting to a U.S. hospital. She plans to place seven paintings in the United States and three each in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

"We are beginning with English-speaking countries first, but we hope it will spread worldwide eventually," she said.

For more information about participation in the program, call Annmarie Rosa at (845) 586-2664.

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