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Color Combats Pain at Children’s Hospital

VIBRANT color, three-dimensional art, imaginative monsters laughing against a backdrop of bright blue sky… walking down these halls, you’d never think you were in a hospital. That’s the whole point.


As part of the Color Contra el Dolor (Color Against Pain) program founded and carried out by pediatric neonatologist Luis Pinto, the Children’s Hospital in downtown San José has received an infusion of color, art and light in its gray, drab interior over the past five years.


“Kids who come to the hospital are already scared because something’s going to be done to them,” Pinto said. “Then they have to walk through these long, dark hallways it’s scary!”


After researching color’s positive effect on energy levels, Pinto diagnosed the Children’s Hospital as needing a heavy dose of oranges, blues and greens, as well as artwork to entertain the eyes of parents and patients who sometimes have to spend all day there. The hospital treats patients with all kinds of conditions, ranging from broken bones to cancer.


Pinto consulted his wife Susan, an interior designer from the United States who now works on the hospital’s art and decoration committee raising funds and collecting materials for the program, which is funded entirely by private donations.


Because the Children’s Hospital is publicly funded by the Social Security System (Caja), there isn’t money to spare for new lights and paint, Pinto explained.


THE latest splash of color to grace the hospital is a three-piece, moveable mural painted by volunteers from the U.S. Peace Corps and U.S. Embassy community, designed by artist Scott Bondurant, a former Peace Corps volunteer.


Depicting colorful, friendly monsters in a tropical paradise, the mural adorns the formerly blank walls of a basement corridor patients must pass through for X-rays, CAT scans and other tests.


The mural’s inspiration is Marcos Matamoros, a boy who died in 2002 of leukemia in the Children’s Hospital, where he spent the last nine weeks of his life.


Matamoros had no connection with his family and lived on the streets, said Erin Mone, director of the Peace Corps’ Children, Youth and Families Program. Mone befriended the boy 10 years ago while working with street children as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Pacific port city of Puntarenas.


After she returned to Costa Rica two and a half years ago as a Peace Corps director, Matamoros contacted her and told her he was sick with leukemia. During the last weeks of his life, Mone kept him company and cared for him in the hospital.


“When he died, I wanted to do something to honor him,” Mone said. “Lots of children die on the street. Others spend time in a hospital that’s very gray and institutionalized. It’s not a happy place for children to be sick.”


MONE found out about Pinto’s program and joined efforts with Meg Mahoney, whose husband works for the U.S. Embassy, and Allison Wannamaker, director of the embassy’s Strategic Networking Assistance Program (SNAP), to raise funds and recruit volunteers for the project.


“Art gives children something to look at and not be scared of in a place where bad things happen to them,” Mone said. “So often, children don’t have a choice. Color offers stimulation and something else to focus on besides desperation.”


Bradford Corbett, owner of Terramix Corporation in Santa Ana, southwest of San José, donated $1,000 to pay for painting supplies for the mural. Members of the U.S. Embassy community also made donations.


In addition to covering the cost of wood and painting supplies, the money raised paid for the installation of fluorescent lights in the basement corridor, which previously resembled a dark tunnel.


Students from Margreit Wilomaker’s seventh-grade class at Country Day School, in the western suburb of Escazú, contributed their artistic talent to the project by painting three-dimensional monsters to complement the mural.


The class took a field trip to the hospital for an inauguration ceremony Dec. 6, at which satisfied students marveled at seeing their artwork up on the walls.


SINCE the program started five years ago, companies such as Epson, private sponsors, restaurants, schools, universities and the Inter-American Organization for Human Rights have all been patrons.


The framed pieces adorning the hospital’s walls were painted by students from San José area schools. Working with art teachers, the hospital’s art and decoration committee collects student paintings and selects the best ones to hang in the hospital.


Parents are asked to cover the cost of framing, which Pinto said they’re usually glad to do, and the students are invited to come see their work on display, as the Country Day School kids did.


Murals help ease tension when patients must undergo painful treatments such as chemotherapy and giving bone marrow samples. In these wards, children can choose whether they want to be on the bottom of the sea, a hillside farm or the rain forest.


“Can you imagine having to be in a room for hours without having anything to look at?” Pinto asked. “The murals help them relax and not get bored.”


The Color Contra el Dolor program is continually in need of donations. For information or to contribute, e-mail Pinto at




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