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12-year-old Lurie Children’s patient wins national hospital gown design contest

Ramona Deitrich's design (right)

A hospital gown designed by Ramona Deitrich was among those delivered last week to Robert H. Lurie Children's hospital by the Joy in Childhood Foundation. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Twelve-year-old Ramona Deitrich spent less time creating the hospital gown that would win her a national design contest than some kids might spend deciding what to eat for breakfast.

“It literally took her 10 minutes,” her mother Jane Deitrich said.

A patient at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Ramona quickly conceptualized her solar system-themed hospital gown creation and her mother entered it into a nationwide design-a-gown contest last spring.

On Tuesday, Ramona’s purple design — with pink planets with smiley faces, a red spaceship and an astronaut — was unveiled at Lurie’s Children after coming out on top of the Dunkin Donuts’ Joy in Childhood Foundation-sponsored competition. She beat out over 6,000 other entries.

“I tried to think of something that would be good for girls and boys and that would make them feel happy,” Ramona said Friday. “I love drawings where things that wouldn’t usually have a face have a face.”

The competition was one of the highlights of a challenging year, her mother said.

Ramona Deitrich

Ramona Deitrich (center) holds a banner showcasing her winning purple design. | Provided Photo

Ramona was born with a congenital heart defect. In the spring, shortly after receiving the news that she had won, she underwent her 16th heart surgery. Her recovery, Jane Deitrich added, was “extremely difficult.”

After an injury to her vocal cord, the 12-year-old couldn’t eat, drink or speak for an extended period of time. Instead, her mother said “all she did was sit in bed and draw.”

“Art is something that’s always there for her when she’s having a hard time,” she said.

Now, Ramona’s art will soon have the hallways of Lurie Children’s feeling a little more like outer space.

Ramona’s cosmic gowns were distributed to 60 hospitals in the country after about 15,000 were produced, said Christine Soldner, corporate partnerships manager at Starlight Children’s Foundation. Lurie received 250.

The organization produces other “Starlight Gowns” with similarly bright-colored, youthful designs for children. Ramona’s idea, Soldner added, stood out for a combination of its artistic quality, gender-neutral details and ability to span age groups.

Ramona said she’s excited to see other kids in the hospital start rocking her design. But her younger sister Charlotte disputes it’s even entirely hers. According to her mom, she “claims and swears up and down” she came up with the space theme.

“Charlotte had the idea for space dogs,” Ramona said in response, “but my idea (was) just space, so I think it’s still my idea.”

Lurie Children’s also received a $15,000 donation from the Joy in Childhood Foundation announced Tuesday after the unveiling of Ramona’s design.

Since news spread last summer that Ramona’s design won the competition, staff members and patients alike have felt “extremely proud” of the 12-year-old’s accomplishment, said Susan Ruohonen, the hospital’s senior director of family services.

Susan Ruohonen, senior director of family services at the Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Ramona’s gown, as well as the other Starlight Gowns, help “bring some joy into (patients’) environment,” she added.

“Any child that receives any of these gowns, they have their story about it,” Ruohonen said. “And that’s what it really does — provide this voice and expression in a really therapeutic way.”

And for Ramona’s mother, the story of what that 10-minute gown design has done for her children is simple:

“Opportunities like this really allow our family to have things we’re looking forward to and celebrating other than all the medical stuff,” Deitrich said. “It’s a nice way to shift the focus off things that are hard or aren’t going right to something worth celebrating.”