Children with life-threatening illnesses are subjects of photo shoot

September 21, 2007  |  Posted by Kumari Kelly

Children with life-threatening illnesses are subjects of photo shoot

Kumari Kelly

Sentinel Staff Writer

September 21, 2007

Before Thursday, Jessica Matteson had only department-store portraits and school pictures of herself -- nothing at all like those from professional photographers Riku and his wife, Anna.

Riku seemed more like a Hollywood paparazzo, with his one-word name and big flash popping every few seconds.

"They took a lot," Jessica said.

"It was kind of annoying."

The Deltona seventh-grader posed not at a studio but in a converted classroom at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.

The Band-Aid on her chest hinted of her discovery less than two weeks ago that she has leukemia, a shock that since has kept her in the hospital for chemotherapy treatments.

The other children photographed Thursday by Riku-Anna Photography also have cancer or other life-threatening illnesses.

It was the fifth local shoot set up by Flashes of Hope, a national nonprofit group that began its Orlando chapter in May.

The group lines up professional photographers, makeup artists and hair stylists to capture the children's essence of bravery and dignity with the photos.

Because chemotherapy and other treatments can alter the children's appearance or make them feel ill and isolated, the photo shoots provide a chance to be pampered for a day. They also get a selection of professional, leather-bound photographs and a CD of all the images, with permission to reproduce them free of charge.

"I'm kind of overwhelmed by all of this," said Jessica's mother, Debbie Matteson, 45, who was photographed with her daughter.

"I was holding back tears sitting there."

Annually, Flashes of Hope will photograph 2,500 sick children in the U.S. at 18 participating children's hospitals, including Arnold Palmer in Orlando and All Children's Hospital in Tampa.

"It's important to record through the photographs the love and strength through the process," said Nancy DeLuca, Orlando chapter director, who approached the national founder, Allison Clarke, after seeing her on television more than a year ago.

"We now have a waiting list of photographers" wanting to get involved.

About once a month, the group organizes the photo shoots, which involve at least two professional photographers, several professional hair and makeup stylists and a few hospital staffers. About Face Design in Winter Park, a studio specializing in on-location hair and makeup work, has volunteered for every shoot.

"We cry before we come, and we cry before we leave, but we get so much when we come," said About Face co-owner Gina Lamm, 44, who brought six of her staff Thursday.

One teenage cancer patient who has lost her hair and gained weight from steroids planned to come for her photograph anyway, said Arnold Palmer's Shalese Bennett, who works with children to explain procedures and assists with other day-to-day activities.

"She wanted to do it because it would help her feel she's beautiful -- because she doesn't feel it right now."

Riku worked the kids as if they were supermodels.

His photo shoots usually are of politicians and brides and television personalities, and on-location commercials.

The Flashes shoots feel different, he said.

"A major epiphany happened. I became a dad three years ago," he said.

"You know those cans in stores for like Jerry's kids and things like that? I used to walk past those religiously. Now, I can't go past one without putting something in. Parenthood I think did it."

Kumari Kelly can be reached at or 407-931-5933.

Copyright © 2007, Orlando Sentinel,0,4523213,full.story

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