Mr. Catalano remains self-taught. And he said he’s still refining the process. For example, he has found that the ink in fingernail tattoos doesn’t always absorb into the scar tissue, so he sometimes has to redo them or touch them up.
He uses techniques he picked up years ago while helping breast cancer survivors who wanted tattoos of areolas — the darkened area around nipples — after having mastectomies. Those tattoos are among the most common paramedical requests.
His grandmother had breast cancer, and her battle with the disease is one reason Mr. Catalano is so dedicated to helping those with the diagnosis.
“Cancer took away a part of my body I can never get back,” said Sarah Penberthy, a breast cancer survivor who traveled from Festus, Mo., to Hecker for Mr. Catalano’s areola tattoos. “I felt like I wasn’t even human.”
Ms. Penberthy, 39, said she was grateful for her life after the ordeal but still felt incomplete. The tattooed nipples and chest plate have helped her feel more comfortable with her experience.
Mr. Catalano doesn’t charge for paramedical tattoos. A GoFundMe page established last year brought in more than $12,000, allowing him to donate his skills — at least for the time being. Each Wednesday (called “Wellness Wednesday”), he does up to eight reconstructive tattoos in his small shop.