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Art students help make medical condition ‘cool’ for alumna’s young sons

Barry McNamara
Carissa Scott Doyle '08 and her father, Bo Scott, hold Conrad and Thomas Doyle.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – Members of the Monmouth College community have volunteered their time and talents to help out a Monmouth College family.

Under the direction of art professor Stacy Lotz, three Monmouth students have helped brighten a unique medical situation for young brothers Thomas and Conrad Doyle, whose mother, Carissa Scott Doyle, is a 2008 graduate.

“And who works at Monmouth College?” Carissa asked Thomas, who recently turned 2.

“Grandpa Bo,” he replied.

That would be Bo Scott, a longtime member of the College’s physical plant staff, who is Carissa’s father.

Both Thomas and Conrad were diagnosed with craniosynostosis, a condition in which one or more of a baby’s cranial sutures close too early, causing problems with normal brain and skull growth. Premature closure of the sutures may also cause the pressure inside of the head to increase and the skull or facial bones to change from a normal, symmetrical appearance.

“Basically, what it is, the soft spot in a baby’s head takes a year to close,” explained Carissa. “But by their two-month checkups, the soft spot had closed for both of them. ... The doctor removed a bone, but then they both had to wear a helmet to help control what part of the head grows at a certain time.”

Carissa reported that craniosynostosis “is not as rare as you would think,” occurring in 1 in every 2,500 children. However, the brothers’ diagnosis defied some odds.

“Both of them had the same soft spot that closed,” said Carissa. “That’s what we’re told is very rare.”

The helmets used to correct the condition “look like a medical device, for lack of a better word,” said Carissa. She wanted to see if there was a way to improve the look, and that’s where her Monmouth connection paid off.

Art students Tessa Barry ’18 and Ashley Carnes ’18 painted the series of helmets for Thomas, who needed a new one every 6-8 weeks as he grew. With Conrad also moving through several helmets, Ryan Dawson ’21 of Monmouth has taken over the project.

“For the latest one, we talked about a Monmouth College theme, so I wanted to bring in the new crest and incorporate that,” Dawson said.

Not all of the helmets have been tied to the College. Some of the other designs have been based on the Chicago Cubs, the Mississippi River and Monmouth’s Italian Village restaurant, which Carissa’s husband Andrew owns. They’ve all been painted by the three Monmouth students, except for one that Carissa did herself.

“It turns a situation where people would stare at them into, ‘Well, that’s cool,” said Carissa. “People even ask us where they can get one. I tell them, at $40,000, they don’t want one.”

Thomas wore his helmets until around his first birthday in February of 2018. Improvements to the process mean that Conrad will only need to wear his until around the time he turns 8 months old.

About every two months in 2017 and again this year, the Doyles have made the trip to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for a new fitting for one of their sons. They return a week later to pick up the next helmet.

Asked if she now knew her way to Rochester, Carissa smiled and said, “Yeah, really well.”