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'Warrior artist' uses celebrity drawings in Crohn's disease battle
Once the lead in her school play, Commack’s Keri Dolan had to give up her passion for acting. Diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in July 2008 at age 11, she could barely get out of bed, spent hours daily writhing in pain in the bathroom and lost 4 pounds a week.
But she didn’t let it stop her from finding a new creative outlet -- drawing portraits. She started using art as therapy, and that has morphed into an online fundraiser that started Dec. 4. She’s auctioning off her hand-drawn and autographed celebrity portraits to benefit the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America.
“It was really hard to give up what I loved, but I think everything happens for a reason,” said Keri Dolan, 17, who was diagnosed with the chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract after finishing the fifth grade. “This is how I got into art and drawing portraits.”
Dolan developed ulcers on her small and large intestines. She visited specialists, received nutrition by feeding tube, underwent physical therapy, took different medications and endured the solitude of being home-schooled for almost 2½ years.
“It felt like a stomach virus that kept coming back,” Dolan said. “I was so thin. I could barely get out of bed. And it kept getting worse. It’s a horrible, debilitating disease.”
Dolan’s mother, MaryAnn Dolan, said her daughter returned to school full-time in ninth grade at Commack High School. That’s when she began seriously creating celebrity portraits.
Dolan calls Keri her “warrior artist.”
“After she returned to school, Keri became the girl who draws, not the sick girl,” said Dolan, 45. “Art changed things for her. Art gave her something to fight for.”
Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition, so Keri will have to deal with it for life. But she says every time she gets a portrait signed she feels she’s taken a step toward enacting change.
“Barely anyone acknowledges Crohn’s disease,” said Keri Dolan. “I think this will help get the attention it deserves. I’ve turned pain into purpose.”
Her online auction can be found at eBay Giving Works, with proceeds benefiting the CCFA.
Dolan managed to get her portraits of One Direction, Nick Lachey, Little Mix and Cher Lloyd personally autographed. She even started her own Facebook page, Creating for Crohn's and Colitis, to share her artwork and to inspire others to do the same. She’s found creative ways to get her items signed -- including running into One Direction’s manager at a hotel in Connecticut when the group had a show there.
At medical appointments, Dolan brings her portraits to show her physician, Dr. Aliza Solomon, an assistant attending pediatrician at Weill Cornell Medical College in Manhattan, who believes self-expression through art has improved her patient’s quality of life.
“She’s a very talented artist,” said Solomon, whose expertise is in pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition and has been treating Dolan since 2011. “She’s made tremendous strides with her disease. Art is a way to channel stress and heal. What she’s doing is magnificent.”
Keri’s art teacher, Robert Raeihle, who has been teaching at Commack High School 14 years, said Dolan is “the kind of kid that reminds you of why you became a teacher.”
“She’s using art, which is her vehicle, to raise awareness and attacking her illness head on,” adds Raeihle, 43, of Smithtown. “The remarkable thing is that you see her through her art. That’s a difficult thing for a high school student to capture. What she’s gone through has shaped who she is as an artist and it has made her truly unique. It’s inspiring.”
Her auction: www.ebay.com/usr/creatingforcrohnsandcolitis