This post is part of the Relay for Kids in partnership with SOS Children's Villages. Each time you share this post, Johnson & Johnson will donate $1 (per action) to support children worldwide affected by crisis. Scroll to the bottom to find out more.
Over my 30-year career as a photographer, I've been inspired by many babies and young children -- from tiny preemies I photographed in neonatal units around the world, to most recently an incredible group of young people who I had the privilege of photographing for a global project to raise awareness of meningococcal disease. And I'd particularly like to shine a light on some of these children today. As a mother myself, I was initially really concerned about the emotional toll of taking on such a sensitive subject matter, but in hindsight it was one of the most positive and inspirational projects I've ever worked on.
Meningococcal disease is a sudden, aggressive illness that can lead to death within 24 hours of onset. Symptoms closely echo a serious cold or flu and may also include a stiff neck, sensitivity to light and most seriously a purple rash. Babies, toddlers and adolescents are most vulnerable, and unfortunately, many of those who do survive are often left with life-long complications such as brain damage, learning disabilities, hearing loss and amputation of limbs.
The 15 survivors I met and photographed came from eight different countries, and they are a living testament to the unbending spirit that resides within all of us. Let me share here the images and stories of four of these amazing young survivors.
Victoria (5 years) from Spain
Victoria was one of the saddest little girls I'd ever met. She had only recently suffered the loss of both legs due to meningococcal septicemia, and her parents travelled with her to the shoot in London in the hope that the trip would raise her spirits and help rebuild her self-esteem. The magic of digital photography allowed Victoria to see her image on screen after the shoot, and her sad little face eventually broke into a beautiful smile.
Ellie May and twin sister Sophie (9 years) from the UK
Ellie May was just 16 months old when she was stricken with a near-fatal case in 2004. She survived, but not without the amputation of both her arms and legs. Her mother said that every time Ellie came back from surgery there was less and less of her. Ellie's sister Sophie thankfully wasn't affected -- a painful reminder for the rest of their lives of such random devastation.
Amber (5 years) from the UK
To quote the 19th century poet Edgar Allen Poe, "There is no exquisite beauty, without some strangeness in the proportion" -- with which I wholeheartedly agree. To have the privilege of photographing Amber -- a beautiful little 5-year-old girl, who happens to have no limbs at all -- opens the creative mind to a world of unique and haunting beauty, and delivers the lesson that these losses do not define the person, putting the issues we all complain about in our daily lives into total perspective.
Harvey (8 YEARS) from the UK
Harvey was just 2 years old when he was infected with meningococcal septicemia. As a result, he had to have his legs and three and a half fingers on his right hand amputated. His left hand is also partially paralyzed. Harvey is a keen athlete despite his amputations. In addition to being a swimmer, he sprints on blade prosthetics that have enabled him to fulfill his dream of running.
As if I needed any positive reinforcement during the time I spent with all of these remarkable survivors, a week after this image was made I received an email from Harvey saying how much he had enjoyed the shoot and that for the first time in his life he was proud of his amputations.
In conclusion, since I first picked up a camera, children have been my inspiration. To me they represent everything that is good in the world, and each and every one of them has the basic right to be protected, nurtured and loved.
The beautiful children featured here have added a whole extra dimension to my own perspective on life, as I hope they do to yours. Their courage, strength and joyful approach to the future, in the face of such pain, says so much for all of the reasons why I have based my career around the photography of new life.
Any mother or father reading this knows that there are many fears in store -- real or imaginary -- for every new parent. But one of them should never be that their child is at risk from a frightening disease that is now vaccine preventable.
We must continue to make the health and wellbeing of our young people a priority. They speak to our future. They are our global opportunity for a better world. And they represent our eternal chance at new beginnings.
To view all the images from the project, a free download is available on Apple iBooks. The project is called "Protecting Our Tomorrows -- Portraits of Meningococcal Disease."
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Johnson & Johnson, SOS Children's Villages and The Huffington Post created the Relay for Kids to support children around the world who have been affected by poverty, conflict, disease and natural disasters. Visit www.sos-usa.org/relayforkids to learn more.
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