Woman paints to help others

Columbus Dispatch


Artist Samantha Bennett paints primarily portraits, often for people who have suffered the death of a child.

The 34-year-old knows about loss: A son died after a high-risk pregnancy, and parts of most of her fingers were amputated because of a bout with bacterial meningitis as an infant.

“Most of the time, I don’t feel like I’m handicapped,” she said. “Most of my life, I’ve dealt with it myself.”

The disease, Bennett said, also led to the amputation of her toes and part of her right foot as a 9-month-old.

The skin grafts on her arms, legs and face, she said, look more like those of burn victims than what people expect with meningitis.

Others might learn her story through a video of her experience to be posted next month on the National Meningitis Association website.

The goal is to encourage people to be vaccinated against bacterial meningitis, said Lynn Bozof, president of the Atlanta group she founded in 2002 after losing her 20-year-old son to the disease in 1998.

“It’s a rare disease, but it’s a killer disease,” Bozof said.

Donna Lufkin, mother of Samantha, was alerted to something wrong with her daughter by a fever and a dark, tornado-shaped bruise on one arm.

She rushed her firstborn to an emergency room near their home in Pensacola, Fla. After waiting an hour, she was told to visit a hospital that treats children.

Two hours later, doctors put Samantha on antibiotics to stop the swelling in the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord — although the inflammation already had made her lose much of her skin.

Samantha spent the next six months in a hospital undergoing multiple plastic surgeries.

She has dealt with awkward stares and questions for as long as she remembers, but she is grateful to have lived. Art always has been a passion.

By the time she had moved with her mom and stepdad, Steve, to Newark in Licking County at age 6, she was drawing nonstop with her left thumb and index finger.

She took every art class offered at Newark High School, then studied fine art at the Columbus College of Art & Design.

She met her future husband, Jason, upon her return to Florida after art school.

The death of their son inspired “butterfly portraits,” which she began painting for other families that had lost loved ones.

Bennett paints the family, the loved one or both from photographs and adds a colorful butterfly, the symbol that hospitals place on the door after a woman loses a baby.