If you've ever wondered why you sometimes spot babies with helmets on, it might not be because they've got overprotective parents. Why you're actually seeing may be a corrective helmet for plagiocephaly, which, according to the National Health Service, is moderate to severe skull asymmetry. Babies can develop plagiocephaly from moving through the birth canal or if they favor a certain side of their heads when they sleep. While some cases correct themselves, many severe cases have to be treated with corrective helmets. "I felt so much guilt thinking that I had done something wrong, and because of it, my son would have to wear a medical device on his head for months," Landee Tim told Today of her experience with a corrective helmet.
Tim described instances when other moms would assume that she dropped her son, Henry, or that he experienced seizures. That's when she decided to make the helmet something to be proud of. She found Washington-based artist Paula Strum, who specializes in custom corrective helmets. The 60-year-old artist has painted over 3,000 helmets since she started her business in 2003 and ships them to parents across the country. She's turned something that's associated with difficulty into something beautiful. Since babies have to wear the helmets for up to 23 hours a day, Strum has to have a quick turnaround so that kids aren't without them. When Tim received Henry's hand-painted helmet, she says things were completely different. "The feedback from others immediately changed," Tim said. "Most of the time, Henry received playful smiles, waves, and comments on how adorable his helmet was. Some even asked where they could pick one up for their children — not realizing it was a medical device." Strum's designs range from pastel florals, Pokémon designs, and Van Gogh's "Starry Night" to trompe l'œil NASA helmets and more, giving parents plenty of options if they have to use corrective helmets. Strum has also lent her abilities to leg braces and other types of helmets. Strum understands that she's not performing any medical miracles, she's giving parents something they don't have to be ashamed of: "I'm not curing cancer or feeding the poor or making breakthroughs in quantum mechanics, but I have the privilege of helping parents come to terms with their adorable baby having to wear this thing — and to me, that means I have the best job ever."