Joel Dimitry didn’t want a big party to mark his 70th birthday on June 1. Instead, he’s choosing to honour his niece.
The retired dentist and self-taught Markham artist is showing 20 of his best paintings to raise money for the Therapeutic Clown Program at SickKids Hospital, where his niece, Carrie Dimitry, spent many months before dying in 1995 of familial dysautonomia, a disease prevalent in the Ashkenazi Jewish population. She was 13.
The show Raw Colour representing two years of Dimitry’s labour, took place earlier this week at Coldstream Fine Art Gallery in Toronto.
Dimitry, who’s been painting for decades, showcased colour-splashed acrylic works, mostly abstracts.
He chose the clown program at SickKids as a beneficiary because he’s convinced it makes a difference.
Established in 1993, the program employs specially-trained clowns who use “spontaneous humour and gentle play to minimize stress during hospitalization and treatment,” according to the hospital’s website.
“A hospital can be an overwhelming place for a child. It is often the first time a child is away from home – away from the familiarity of family and routine.” Therapeutic clowning “is an innovative and effective therapy and like laughter, is contagious.”
When kids interact with the clowns, “for a few minutes they’re not in the hospital anymore. The program provides a wonderful diversion from the hospital treatment atmosphere.”
SickKids currently has two full-time therapeutic clowns and is hiring another. The goal of the show is to raise the salary of a clown for one year.
Dimitry’s niece called SickKids home for many months during her treatment. Also known as Riley-Day syndrome, familial dysautonomia is a rare genetic disorder that strikes the nervous system, causing life-threatening medical complications from birth.
Symptoms include uncontrolled blood pressure and heart rate, and an inability to swallow properly. Sufferers are prone to pneumonia and digestion issues, among many others.
Its carrier frequency in Ashkenazi Jews is one in 27, according to the New York-based Familial Dysautonomia Foundation. The carrier frequency in the general population is unknown.
Genetic screening became available in 2001, enabling Ashkenazi Jews to find out if they are carriers. Testing is available for the two most common mutations of the disease, says the FD foundation, adding that advances in treatment have dramatically extended life expectancy.
Around the year 2000, Carrie’s family established Carrie’s Dream Fund at SickKids to help support the clown program, as well as alternative therapies involving art and music.
For information, contact Joel Dimitry here.