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Monday, Sep 01, 2014

Hill: Group captures lasting memories

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Getting off the elevator on the third floor of the Outpatient Care Center adjacent to All Children’s Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine in St. Petersburg on Wednesday morning, you would probably notice the photographers and the backdrop hanging from a hidden pole like an errant shower curtain.

But unless you were headed for the informal studio with your child, you likely wouldn’t know that the photos taken here are very special.

Most of these kids who are coaxed and charmed into appealing smiles by volunteer professional photographers have cancer.

That day, the volunteers were Rebecca Zoumberos of Limelight Photography and Sammy Wilkinson, a Limelight intern.

Their first late-morning subject was 4-year-old Julissa Guerra. A gorgeous kid with dark hair and eyes, Julissa lives in Fort Meade in Polk County with her mother and dad, Delia and Gabriel, and her siblings Ayden, 1, and Estany, 5.

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She comes to All Children’s for outpatient therapy for leukemia every week and has been since her original hospitalization about 15 months ago.

It’s a long drive, says her mother, who has brought all the children today so they can be in the picture. But she says the hospital and its staff are wonderful.

Things at home have been tough recently, Delia said, because Gabriel, who worked in the mines, was laid off.

While we chatted, Zoumberos and Wilkinson worked their magic. They took individual photos of the shy Julissa and then pictures of all the siblings together.

Even Delia was persuaded to join the kids for a photo. She tried to defer, saying she didn’t look good. Usually, a hair and makeup stylist is also available. Not that day.

But she looked just fine and was glad she joined in, given there weren’t any family photos.

All the families will be provided with a gorgeous album of black-and-white photos at no charge. Color photography isn’t used because it can emphasize blemishes that are often left by disease or treatment.

These photos are made possible by a remarkable national volunteer organization, Flashes of Hope.

Roy Adams, public information officer at All Children’s, explains that the photos may be the last — or the only — images taken of the child. Some children die so young that there isn’t an opportunity for parents to have a professional photo taken.

Others have families consumed by dealing with a child who has a serious chronic illness and limited financial resources. So photos are often the last thing parents think of, until the child dies.

Flashes of Hope was founded by Allison Clarke, a Cleveland mother who saw this happen to the family of a child who was treated for cancer at the same time as her son.

The Tampa Bay Chapter is co-chaired by Dana Hudepohl and Michelle Gibson.

Gibson and Kim Fish were the volunteers who staffed the Wednesday event, which is usually held once a month.

We were all charmed by the next child, a force of nature named Recolon Jumpp.

He’s 41⁄2, he says, emphasizing the half and sticking out a tiny fist to show four fingers and his bent thumb.

Recolon has Thalassemia major, an inherited blood disorder. He had a bone marrow transplant about two years ago and comes to All Children’s from Deltona with his mother, Vanessa Somma, every other week.

There is nothing shy and retiring about this child who can’t wait to go to kindergarten. That will happen, he crows, “In August!”

Recolon talks openly about his condition and his treatment. He completely charms everyone in the immediate world and insists that Vanessa get in the picture as well.

She does, and mother and son snuggle and kiss while the photographers shoot.

Recolon is doing well now. But he’s had his ups and downs, says his mom.

No matter what happens to Recolon or Julissa or any of the other children who were photographed that afternoon in All Children’s inpatient unit and ICU, thanks to Flashes of Hope there will be lasting memories.

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