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SWFL Children’s Charities, Inc. introduces 2017 Child Artists, Leo and Lola Grabinski


Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida is the primary beneficiary of the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, the signature fundraiser for the SWFL Children’s Charities, Inc., so it is very fitting for the hospital’s young patients to be a part of this amazing event, and that is what the Child Artist program is all about.


This year’s 2017 Child Artists, Leo and Lola Grabinski, are twins who were born 13 weeks early on July 26, 2011. As newborns, they spent the first 98 days of their lives in the Golisano Children’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Born weighing just a little over two pounds, a fourth of what the average full-term baby weighs at birth, the twins have an amazing story of survival, which includes the NICU team at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

“The night they were born, the neonatologist in the NICU said to me, ‘Dad, we need to talk to you. We’re having a really hard time with Leo,’” said Matthew Grabinski, the twins’ father. “Leo was lifeless, he was blue. The alarms were going off, the doctors and respiratory therapists were rushing around and working on him. We came REALLY close to losing him. Thankfully he pulled through, and thankfully we were at the Golisano Children’s Hospital because it took an experimental piece of equipment that not all children’s hospitals have to save Leo.”


Now five years old and healthy, the Child Artists spent a recent morning at Alliance for the Arts with art mentor Jolie Black, creating a one-of-a-kind abstract painting that will be auctioned off during the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest Live Auction on Feb. 25, 2017. Their collaborative artwork features a stylized outline of their bodies and handprints in vibrant tones of red, blue and green. An energetic depiction of two survivors who are truly just beginning their journey in life, the abstract painting is vibrant and full of promise for the children’s future, which is indeed bright.

“Every little thing that makes them happy from painting to blowing bubbles to hugging each other, I capture those moments in my mind because eventually those will take over and I won’t have those images in my mind of them as tiny, very sick newborns,” said the twins’ mom, Laura Grabinski.  “When you have a facility like the children’s hospital in your backyard, it’s like an insurance policy – you hope you never need it, but you’re glad it’s there. Every day, they are saving lives and we are truly grateful.”

The child artist program has raised more than $1 million over 11 years to benefit pediatric care at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, the only children’s hospital to serve the five-county region. Bids for the artwork will start at $5,000, and last year’s child art raised $150,000. Traditionally, the works are then donated back to the hospital, where they are displayed for patients, families, visitors and staff to enjoy.

The two-day festival includes private Chef Vintner Dinners on Friday, Feb. 24 and The Grand Tasting and Live Auction on Saturday, Feb. 25 at Miromar Lakes Beach & Golf Club.

SWFL Children’s Charities Inc.’s annual signature fundraiser, the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, has raised $15.6 million over the past eight years, making it the most successful fundraising event in Lee County and one of the top-grossing wine fests in the country. The nonprofit, SWFL Children’s Charities, Inc. donates 100 percent of the event proceeds to three local beneficiaries. Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida is the primary beneficiary of the event, and the money raised helps to fund the building of the new family-centered children’s hospital that will provide new and expanded medical services and subspecialty services to children from Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. In addition to providing funds for the new state-of-the-art Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, SWFL Children’s Charities, Inc. grants funds to Florida SouthWestern State College and Florida Gulf Coast University to provide scholarships and equipment to educate the community’s next generation of pediatric health care professionals. For more information, visit www.swflwinefest.org.

Photos courtesy of Carol Orr Hartman.

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