Nurse anesthesia alum Donna Dzialo ’99 turns tossed-out drug vial caps into ArtPrize entry

COVID Time CAPsule artwork

In 2018, nurse anesthetist Donna Dzialo took a closer look at the colorful drug vial caps she’d been throwing away at work and began saving them instead.

Dzialo, who earned a bachelor’s in 1996 from the WSU College of Nursing and then a master’s in 1999 from the Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice program (as it is now known), said, “The caps have a unique beauty that I appreciated as a nurse, a scientist and an artist.”

Donna Dzialo creating her artwork
Nurse anesthetist and artist Donna Dzialo creating her project.

A colleague at Ascension Providence Rochester Hospital, pre-op RN Cheryl Dassow-Chapman, suggested she create a mosaic version of a Monet painting, “but when COVID came and changed the world, it also changed my design plan.”

Dzialo spent hours upon hours in her basement workspace, ultimately piecing together more than 6,000 caps of nearly 400 different colors, sizes, shapes and textures. Using IV tubing and needle covers along with the caps, she created “COVID Time CAPSule,” representing infected cells, blood cells and antibodies.

Jump to photo album

“Viruses are smaller than a grain of salt but have an astounding impact on us all — on our health, mental wellness, work, travel, and community and family relationships,” Dzialo said. “The caps shown here, with different colors, shapes, sizes, finishes and all their different potential combinations, make this work as unique as we are.”

The 8- by 4-foot project earned a coveted spot on display at the downtown JW Marriott hotel during last fall’s ArtPrize, an international art competition held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, since 2009. ArtPrize celebrates artists working in all mediums from anywhere in the world, and is open to anyone with artwork to enter and a venue willing to host it. 

Donna Dzialo's work at ArtPrize
“COVID Time CAPSule” on display during ArtPrize.

For three weeks each autumn, art is exhibited throughout the city in parks and museums, in hotels and storefronts, in bars and on bridges, and even in the river that runs through town. Visitors from around the world gather to view the art, engage in meaningful discussions, and vote for their favorite entries, with cash prizes and grants awarded to select artists in the end.

“While displaying this piece at ArtPrize for 21 days, I found that people were really attracted to it,” said Dzialo, who maintains a website to promote her art. “Especially those who had gotten infected or lost a loved one to COVID, and of course all of those with medical backgrounds.”

During conversations about the creative project with ArtPrize attendees, Dzialo was quick to share credit with her support team. 

“Health care professionals have been on the front lines during this pandemic, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how many nurses, assistants, techs and pharmacists at work helped by saving me caps. Everyone from pre-op to recovery pitched in to get me a certain color I was low on, or a special size and shape I needed more of,” Dzialo said. “Heidi Beverly would save me caps from her other CRNA jobs where they had different manufacturers and suppliers. For two years, our wonderful scrub techs saved any caps I had left behind in operating rooms and made sure I got them! And then my 16-year-old daughter Stephanie sorted everything I brought home by color, shape and size. I'm grateful for the combined support.”

Dzialo hopes to one day sell the artwork and fund a Wayne State scholarship with the proceeds.

Donna Dzialo in scrubs with artwork caps Donna Dzialo used for her art

Dzialo has been a nurse anesthetist at Ascension Providence Rochester Hospital for 18 years. 

Dzialo's plan to turn trash into treasure expanded into something bigger during the pandemic.

Donna Dzialo's artwork at ArtPrize ArtPrize display poster

Dzialo used more than 6,000 caps of of nearly 400 different colors, sizes, shapes and textures to create her ArtPrize entry.

Dzialo said her project is dedicated in part to health care professionals helping our community through COVID.

ArtPrize discussion

Dzialo (left) guides ArtPrize attendees through a discussion of her project during the fall 2021 event. Her work was prominently displayed in the JW Marriott hotel in downtown Grand Rapids, which sees heavy traffic during the city's annual three-week celebration of art. 

More photos

WSU Applebaum’s Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice program is led by exceptional faculty and clinical instructors dedicated to the profession and the teaching of students using state-of-the-art teaching facility and anesthesia classrooms. The DNAP degree is 36 months, designed to offer registered nurses an advanced education and full scope of practice as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA). Graduates will also meet the requirements for the National Certification Examination. Learn more about the application process, which takes place between Feb. 1 and June 1 for classes starting the following September.

Return to news