He’s seven feet tall, bright red and on a mission to improve lifestyle habits across Antigua and Barbuda.
Meet ‘Arter’ – the brand new mascot unveiled by the Heart and Stroke Foundation to mark February’s National Heart Month.
The non-profit body – which celebrates its third anniversary this week – hopes the eye-catching sponge character will help hammer home the importance of diet and exercise in staving off heart disease, the world’s number one killer.
Arter – short for ‘artery’ – has a special backstory to help raise local awareness of the steps we can all take to avoid high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes.
“Arter is a 16-year-old boy who lives with his mother and grandmother and has embarked on this journey of becoming a young health guru because of what he has experienced in life,” Foundation member Dr Monica Osborne-Stevens explains.
“He recognised from an early age that his mother and grandmother were taking pills every day, and when he asked about it he was told they had high blood pressure and diabetes.
“He would see sometimes they would get sick, sometimes they were just not feeling well because their blood sugar was elevated. One day he comes home from school to see an ambulance outside his home. He is told his grandmother has suffered a stroke.”
While Arter might have an upbeat appearance, he has a very serious message, Dr Osborne-Stevens, of MOS Medical Services in Old Parham Road, explains.
Arter’s grandmother – in the fictional story of the mascot’s creation – recovered but the shock of almost losing her galvanised Arter into action.
“He started Googling and YouTubing and learning all about diabetes and high blood pressure and how to prevent them so he could educate others,” Dr Osborne-Stevens smiles.
A healthy, balanced diet high in fruit and veg and low in starch is key, she says, along with 30 minutes of exercise a day five days a week.
The mascot was designed by local artist and Daily Observer cartoonist Shane Daniel who says it took him two nights to draw Arter.
“I researched online and came up with my own original design,” Daniel says. “It feels great to know I was able to come up with a character design to contribute to something like this.”
Arter was then crafted into his larger than life physical persona by local costume builder Glenroy ‘Zeno’ Richardson.
For Richardson – who is more used to creating Carnival costumes with the Rockers mas’ troupe – it was something of a departure from his usual work.
He says it took several weeks for Arter to come together. In addition to sponge, Richardson used supporting wire and a red suede finish as his main materials.
He says it was a privilege to be tasked with the important job that could ultimately save lives.
“Doing it I was like, wow, I’ve got to make this right, but now seeing it finished I am feeling good,” he adds.