Photo shoot with Flashes of Hope group brightens ailing children's day

July 02, 2012  |  Posted by DANN DENNY - The Herald Times

Four-year-old Gerardo Salgado is standing in a makeshift photo studio inside the patient resource center at the Indiana University Health Proton Therapy Center, wearing a red "American Muscle" T-shirt and black baseball cap.

"Can you show me your muscles?" asks Ann Schurz, a Bloomington professional photographer who's kneeling directly in front of Gerardo so she can address him eye-to-eye.

"Wow!" she says, taking several photos of Gerardo flexing his pint-sized guns. "You have big muscles!"

A massive smile spreads across Gerardo's face, which triggers two even larger smiles on the faces of his onlooking parents, Gerardo Sr. and Martha.

The youngster is one of the eight Proton Therapy Center pediatric patients, ages 18 months to 13 years, who had portraits of themselves taken by Schurz on a recent Monday.

The three-hour photo session was a partnership between the Indiana University Health Proton Therapy Center and Flashes of Hope, a national nonprofit organization based in Cleveland that works with other entities to provide free, professional-quality portraits of children fighting cancer or other life-threatening illnesses.

Prior to each photo shoot, the child was offered free hair and makeup services from Bloomington's Mira Salon. Gerardo, who's being treated for a brain tumor and is all-boy, politely declined any and all primping. But he took to the camera like an ant to honey.

"When children are undergoing treatment they face self-esteem issues as they begin to lose their hair and undergo other changes in appearance," said Nancy Slough, the proton therapy center's patient concierge. "It's amazing how such a simple thing like this can have such a dramatic effect on a child's confidence."

Slough said the photos might show the child with a prop, such as a favorite hat or hockey stick, and might include the child's parents, best friend or beloved pet.

"If the child has a port or drain the photographers don't try to conceal that," she said. "The photos attempt to capture the very soul of the child, and show what is going on in their lives."

Indeed, Gerardo's photos were taken with a plastic tube inserted into his left nostril. During his photo shoot Schurz asked him to strike a variety of poses " wearing a pair of sunglasses perched on the end of his nose, hugging a stuffed race car and putting his arm around his best buddy, 11-month-old brother Sebastian. Regardless of the pose, Gerardo was all smiles.

"You have a great smile," Schurz says. "And look at those long eyelashes."

"He likes having his picture taken," said Gerardo Sr., beaming as only a proud father can.

After each child's photo shoot, the participating family was given a set of 4-by-6 proofs, a pair of 8-by-10 photos, and a CD containing all the photos from which they can make copies on their own.

Mark Watson, director of Flashes of Hope's Indianapolis chapter, said he hopes to have another photo shoot this year at the proton therapy center, and perhaps more the following year. He said his organization will also arrange a shoot in July at Bradford Woods, and has six shoots a year at each of two Indianapolis hospitals " the Peyton Manning Children's Hospital and Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.

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