For those battling disease or horrific injuries, an amputation may be the last resort. While the procedure is responsible for saving many lives, it doesn’t lessen the impact and grief that comes with losing a body part. Thirty-eight-year-old Eric Catalano has witnessed this grief firsthand.
“My grandmother, Mary Catalano, was a breast cancer survivor, as well as many women who were close to my family,” he told The Sun UK. After witnessing their suffering, Catalano wanted to raise awareness of the impacts of the disease. As a tattoo artist at the Eternal Ink Studio in Illinois, for Catalano, a project immediately came to mind:
“I started offering free breast cancer tattoos to raise awareness.”
“Through that outlet, many of the women needed nipple tattoos after their mastectomy.”
Catalano’s project began in 2010, and over the course of the next five years, he gave over 1,500 free tattoos.
Catalano believes modern medicine has a long way to go in terms of reconstructive surgery for mastectomy patients, calling mainstream options ’embarrassing’ at best.
“Most of the time, untrained nurses or surgeons are performing nipple and areola tattoos that leave MUCH to be desired,” he told The Sun UK.
“There are painful and expensive skin graft surgeries that try to mimic a nipple again, but the skin dies and doesn’t get vascularity and ends up withering— the results are poor many times.”
At a certain point, however, Catalano didn’t think raising awareness was enough. To help those with mastectomies, he developed dermal implants that would imitate the raised area of the nipple. From there, his projects have only expanded.
Most recently, Catalano was approached by a man who’d had two fingers partially amputated.
“This gentleman came to me last week asking for fingernails to be tattooed on his two nubs and I accepted,” Catalano recalled. The man had been injured in March of 2018 after getting his fingers stuck in the fan belt of an air conditioning unit.
In regard to the tattoo, Catalano later said: “I don’t think he expected the realism that he received. He was very nonchalant about the whole experience…”
“But when I wiped the skin clean and he saw the lifelike, realistic outcome, I could tell by his facial expression that his expectations were exceeded greatly, and I could see relief and appreciation all over his face.”
As awareness of Catalano’s work has spread, the tattoo artist is now being inundated with tattoo requests. While he has the desire to fulfill the demand, free tattooing ultimately takes away from his income and ability to live. To solve the problem, he’s set up a GoFundMe page.
“Three or four tattoos a month to help people is no problem,” he told LADbible. “But this has the potential to be 30-60 per month or more if I reply to everyone and it continues. So, I’m faced with charging for my services which I don’t want to do. So, I’ve sought ongoing crowdfunding.”
In the past week, Catalano has managed to raise nearly $5,000.
People who have donated are touched by the man’s actions, many having faced illness and injuries themselves. V. Singer wrote: “I lost the tips of my two fingers 65 years ago. This would have made such a difference in my life.” Wendy Musial also added: “As a burn survivor, I can understand how happy you make these people! Thanks for helping people during their hard times.”
In the future, Catalano hopes to develop a prosthetic implant for mastectomy patients. He’s already collaborating with a professor at Emory University to finalize the patents and design.
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