St. Clair County 12-year-old turns EKGs into art for a cause

Proceeds go to congenital heart research, support families

ALLENTON, Mich. – A 12-year-old has found a unique way to use her own heart battle to help others fighting the same fight and it all started with a piece of paper.

An EKG, or electrocardiogram, records the electrical signals of the heart, tracing them out onto special paper. But in those peaks and valleys, Grace Luotonen, 12, saw something more.

“I was at a cardiology appointment, and my cardiologist gave me my EKG that they did, and I went home and I’m like, ‘I’m going to turn this into artwork.’”

The seventh grader crafted a pair of birds, plumed in the pattern of her heart.

Her mother Melissa Luotonen showed it to Grace’s cardiologist. “I was blown away. I was absolutely blown away,” said Dr. Nancy Cutler, a pediatric cardiologist at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

For Cutler, it sparked an idea. “I just thought it was so fascinating that she has that creativity to do that with EKGs and the Save a Heart event was coming up, and I was trying to think, ‘Okay, how can we incorporate the two?’” Cutler said.

Cutler asked Luotonen to make more designs and created cards to sell at the Save A Heart gala, an annual fundraiser to benefit congenital heart research and support families facing congenital heart problems at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

The cards featuring Luotonen’s EKG-inspired artwork were a hit. “They were just spectacular. The thought behind them. She has one that is in tribute to all of those children who aren’t with us,” Cutler said.

Luotonen happily created new designs for this year’s fundraiser.

“I know, like, what it feels like going through all the hard stuff with my family and stuff,” Luotonen said. “So the fact that like, I get to use my artwork to help other families and help research, that is awesome to me.”

The middle schooler isn’t stopping there. Luotonen is also working to raise money to buy art supplies for children in the hospital -- her project is called Grace’s Global Impact Art Drive.

“I feel like art kind of is like a distraction almost. It takes your mind off things. You’re not so worried about everything else going on around you,” Luotonen said.

In the United States, one of every 110 children are born with some sort of heart defect. About a quarter of those are considered critical.

Luotonen was born with a condition called left ventricular outflow tract obstruction. She has been through two open heart surgeries, four major procedures, and countless hospital visits.

She has this advice for other children battling heart troubles: “It’s hard. It’s scary. You know, there’s a lot going on around you, and it can be really confusing at times,” she said. “But you really just got to have that positivity in your life, and no matter what that is for you, like always have something you’re looking forward to and just keep going.”

Luotonen wants to be a pediatric cardiologist when she grows up, so she can help others like her doctors have helped her.

The 12-year-old’s family isn’t surprised by her giving spirit, but they are very proud. “So proud. There’s nothing this kid can’t do,” Melissa Luotonen said. “She takes every little thing she’s been through, and she makes it great. She makes it better.”

“She’s got a big heart. She’s got strong heart, not just because of what she’s been through, but just her outpouring of love and support in wanting to help others,” said Aaron Luotonen, Grace’s father.

Luotonen’s doctor agrees. “Having somebody who wants to give back, that’s a special personality in somebody,” Cutler said. “It’s a special quality in somebody to be able to want to pay it forward.”

And so, from soaring giraffes to high-flying hearts, Luotonen’s designs will continue to lift spirits and help heal special hearts.

“It’s amazing to see how far she’s come,” said Melissa Luotonen. “We nicknamed her ‘Amazing Grace’ and she really does live up to her name.”

The Save A Heart fundraiser featuring Luotonen’s cards and many other items is Saturday, Feb. 25 at 6:30 p.m. It’s a strolling event with food and craft beers. There is also a virtual event that starts at 7 p.m.

For more information on tickets, click here. To check out the virtual auction items, click here.

To help donate art supplies for hospitalized children, click here.

Grace's Art. Courtesy of Grace Luotonen. (Grace Luotonen)