Artist Francesca Todarello, a 15-year-old student at Buena High School in Ventura who was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at age 12, created an 8-foot-by-8-foot chalk painting at last weekend’s I Madonnari Street Painting Festival in Santa Barbara based on “A Girl with a Water Can” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis until his death in 1919.

Francesca was assisted by 28-year-old artist Robert Rush, a student at Cal State University-Channel Islands, with physical/occupational therapy consultation by Maury Hayashida — all coordinated by Amye Leong, a volunteer board member with the Santa Barbara Arthritis Foundation and president of Healthy Motivation in Santa Barbara.

“Our chalk drawing is of an image over another image. Kids are lying on the painting as though they are doing a chalk drawing of the Renoir masterpiece,” according to statement released by the artists. “There is a gold frame around the painting with designs of the molecules that cause arthritis. The hand on the left is Renoir’s holding a brush before his arthritis became serious. The brush is smoothly painting a canvas. On the right, there is another Renoir hand after he was impaired by rheumatoid arthritis. No longer able to hold his favorite tools, the brush is wrapped to his hand and it is diving into his pallet. Despite debilitating arthritis pain, he found new ways to continue to do what he loved — to paint. Hopefully, we can appreciate the lengths he went through then to produce the masterpiece we enjoy today.”

For about 18 months, Todarello was treated for what was thought to be a painful ankle injured during soccer. Over time she saw seven doctors who had her on crutches, in casts and walking boots for months waiting for her “sports injury” to heal. She also had numerous X-rays, CAT scans, MRIs and even nuclear bone scans.

She was finally diagnosed properly when a pediatric orthopedist requested blood work. Now at age 15, Todarello has more joints affected. She has pain and inflammation in both feet, ankles, hands and fingers, plus suffers from fatigue associated with arthritis. It is painful to bend or stoop, to hold brushes, pens, even chalk.

But Todarello is determined to keep moving. She loves art. She enjoys riding her bike, swimming, exercising and yoga. She is hopeful that new treatments and even a cure will be discovered soon to help kids like her affected with arthritis.

The Arthritis Foundation is the only national voluntary organization that works on behalf of people with all forms of arthritis. The Santa Barbara office is located at 2253 Las Positas Road, Suite A, Santa Barbara. Click here for more information.

— Laura Kath is a volunteer for the Santa Barbara Arthritis Foundation.