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It has been such a blessing for me to get to know Teresa, Evan, and Emmett! Teresa lost her husband, Dale Taylor, in a helicopter accident last February. This story made big news in Mobile when it happened, as the city grieved the loss of four brave men. Now about 9 months removed from the accident, the Taylor family is navigating the waters of grief with grace and strength that can only come from the Lord.
When we were trying to decide what we wanted to do for their Fotostory, we decided we wanted to incorporate things that would honor the memory of Dale. The boys wrote letters about Dad that we attached to coast guard colored balloons. They also decided to wear their big leather jackets they received after he passed away, while Teresa wore her hubby’s. Even though this family is heartbroken over the loss of the man they loved so much, they exude so much joy and hope. I hope that comes through in these photos!
Although I never met Dale, it is obvious from meeting his family that he was an amazing guy. I know he must be so proud of his sweet family. Meeting Teresa has inspired me in many ways to appreciate the time I have with my own husband and loved ones so much more. I feel both honored and privileged to be able to tell their story from behind my camera. I hope that she, as well as her boys, will cherish these photos for many years to come!
Two weeks before Ella Claire was born, a routine ultrasound discovered that her head was enlarged because it had extra fluid. One doctor said he could not even see a formed brain on the ultrasound, and that Ella Claire would not live. The doctors performed an emergency c-section. Scans that followed showed that she did in fact have a formed brain but that she had suffered a severe stroke in the womb. The stroke affected the right side of her brain the most, which controls the left side of her body.
The biggest challenge for Ella Claire as a mid-brain-injured child was her mobility. As she grew from baby to toddler, her left leg became stiffer and her left hand and arm grew more rigid. Also, by the age of two, Ella Claire didn’t talk, wasn’t very responsive, and her vision was significantly affected as her brain had difficulty controlling her eyes. She could only smile with the right side of her mouth. She had made little to no progress with traditional medication and therapy. So, Ella Claire’s parents, Dean and Susan, decided to try another option for their daughter’s brain health and wellness. And with it, came hope! They found the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential, based in Philadelphia. The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential is a nonprofit institution founded by Glenn Doman in 1955. The Institutes are internationally known for their pioneering work in child brain development and for their programs to help brain-injured children achieve wellness. The Institutes exist to insure that all brain-injured children have a fighting chance to be well. Their goal is to help parents treat their children at home.
After two years of doing this home-based program with Ella Claire, she made incredible progress. By age four, she could crawl, talk, feed herself, read and do math, play melodies on the piano, and increasingly use her left side. She was learning Spanish and many different subjects. Geography was a favorite, and she had almost completed learning all 50 states and capitals. When she was six years old, Ella Claire took her first independent steps! This was a much-awaited and much-celebrated milestone that many experts thought would never be possible after her grim prognosis at birth. Dean and Susan were, and still are, constantly amazed at how Ella Claire persevered toward her goal of walking without ever giving up. Underneath her very sweet and gentle demeanor is a determination of steel!
Ella Claire turns 11 next month. She is perfectly healthy. She is continuing with her home-based therapy and daily learning new things, as well as doing chores alongside her other four siblings. She is fluent in Spanish and is learning French, too. Her heart to love people completely overflows the moment you meet her. She is the definition of a social butterfly! Ella Claire has taught the entire family about perseverance, encouraging others, unconditional love, and living with a joyful and thankful heart. “She has given the most special gift to her siblings Hannah Grace, Gracie, DJ and Luke—and that is the gift of mercy, compassion and gentleness. They have learned so much from her!” says Susan.
Ella Claire has touched so many people’s lives. As a family friend, I have been touched by Ella Claire’s tender heart and genuine love. I’ve been touched by watching Susan and Dean love their children well in the face of trial. I’ve been touched by the way Hannah Grace, Gracie, DJ and Luke love Ella Claire well and love each other well. I, and so many others, have been touched by their HOPE. Hope in the face of fear. Hope in the face of sadness. Hope in the face of seeming impossibilities.
I asked Susan what she’d want to say to families walking through what the Wilson’s walked through nearly 11 years ago and all this time in between. And she said, “The most important thing is hope! Parents in our situation don’t hear it much when they have a brain-injured child. So, have hope! Look where Ella Claire started and look where she is today, and where she is going. We’re hopeful for Ella Claire.”
Dean’s and Susan’s life verse for Ella Claire is Matthew 21: 18-21; indeed the Lord can move mountains. And a side note for those that know Ella Claire; she asked that this interview be translated into Spanish.
Fotolanthropy is honored to share this story of SSG Travis Mills. On his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, SSG Mills was critically injured on April 10, 2012 by an IED (improvised explosive device) while on patrol. Due to the explosion, SSG Mills lost portions of both legs and both arms. He is only the fifth quadruple amputee from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive his injuries. Even though SSG Mills has endured this unimaginable tragedy, he fights daily to recover for his wife and one year old daughter and to live a fulfilled life. Travis is defying all odds by the progress he has made in under six months and continues to make. His story has touched hearts across the globe, as well as ours at Fotolanthropy.
I will never forget the day that we learned of Travis’s story. I came across his photo in a facebook feed and saw a smiling, handsome soldier sitting amongst other soldiers, however, this image was incredibly impacting to me as I soon realized that this was a wounded soldier that in fact had lost both arms and legs. My heart broke and I remember not being able to sleep that night just worrying and saddened for this family. I knew that he had sacrificed so much protecting our country…my freedom…and I knew I wanted to help. I gave his family a call the next day to see if they would be willing to allow us to gift them with Fotolanthropy and we celebrated when they said yes! We were so excited to be able to gift them with a film, portraits, and to help share their story with everyone we could. Our team flew to his home in North Carolina a week later and we experienced a few days with them I will never forget.
Our team arrived at the Mills home and Kelsey answered the door. Instantly my heart sunk, realizing that Travis could not just get up to come greet us at the door. Knowing Travis now, I bet he was the guy that would be the first one to the door, greeting anyone with a big smile and offering anything he could to make his guests feel right at home. We soon after got to meet Travis and we spent about an hour all getting to know each other. I look back at that time and am so grateful that in one hour we went from absolute strangers to friends. Travis was a riot, just cracking jokes as he is so well known for and Kelsey was so kind, warm, and caring towards her husband she is so proud of and her daughter that she adores. Watching them be a family is such an inspiration, knowing that they have gone through the most unimaginable dark time. Their little unit of three is so strong and I know that it’s because of the deep love of family they have held onto to get them where they are today.
During our time in North Carolina, we were able to film their story by interviewing both Kelsey and Travis. We were very honored that they were so authentic and raw on camera. Kelsey and Travis both opened up to us about things they rarely speak about as it can bring back some painful memories. But during these interviews, they gave a gift to anyone who will watch the film of genuineness. There was not a dry eye in the house while Kelsey spoke about the day of the accident and the emotions she experienced, or when Travis bravely described his fears of what life was going to look like after the accident. Sitting in that living room with them and conducting this interview was incredibly emotional but it was in that moment, I knew in my heart we had to do something big for this family. We needed to do something unlike anything we have done thus far at Fotolanthropy. My prayer and hope was that this tragic pain would be used for good and that it could continue to inspire lives as it already has.
We had a great time getting to give the Mills family a portrait session as well! Kelsey had shared with me that they had not taken portraits in years, which always makes me that much more grateful to be helping give the gift of memories. We selected a gorgeous wooded area by a lake for the portrait session. I wanted this to be fun for them and to have the images portray the love and emotion between this family. Travis was proud to be able to stand on his prosthetics with his wife and daughter during the session. We selected a location by the lake that was somewhat level in order to keep it easy for Travis to walk on. During the session, I captured one of my favorite images of Chloe joyfully waiving an American flag while sitting in front of Travis standing on his prosthetics legs. I keep this image on my desk to remind myself each day of the sacrifices our soldiers make to protect our freedom. Please enjoy the images below and slideshow.
There is so much to say about this family and I have so many feelings that I have a hard time putting into words, but one thing we know is that Fotolanthropy is going to do everything we can to capture this inspiring true story. Our heart is to make this story so well known and to honor the bravery, perseverance, and inspiration of the Mills family. You may have seen that we placed the trailer of Travis: A Soldier’s Story on Kickstarter. We chose to do this so that we could
raise enough funds to take the film to the next level without taking away from the funds we have for our current fotolanthropy families. Because of the heroes that gave to this project and to the ones who are continuing to give, we have the funds to make this short documentary film the best for Travis! To see the trailer of Travis: A Soldier’s Story on Kickstarter, please visit: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/fotolanthropy/travis-a-soldiers-story. Thank you for your support in helping Fotolanthropy create this inspiring documentary film! We are so grateful!
Please stay tuned as there is so much to share about our experience with the Mills family and the filming to come! Travis and Kelsey, I just wanted to thank you for your friendship and for so bravely sharing your story with us. To all of those supporters of Travis, it has been an honor getting to know so many of you. Those of you who have also seen a picture of Travis or heard his story and have chosen to rise up and help this wounded solider, it has been a pleasure building a friendship with you and rallying together behind Travis and his family. Looking forward to celebrating each milestone, sharing this story, and cheering on the Mills family every step of the way! – Katie Norris
Please enjoy the portraits taken by Katie Norris of Travis with his wife Kelsey and daughter Chloe. The film will be premiered in April of 2013.
Here is the link to the live interview of Founder of Fotolanthropy and Fotostrap, Katie Norris with Fox News Happening Now! We wanted to thank each of you for all of the support and kinds words of encouragement, it means so much! Thankful for the opportunity to share our story of Fotolanthropy, FOTOstrap and Travis: A Solider’s Story on Kickstarter
Wow, in just 14 days we did it! Travis: A Soldier’s Story is backed on Kickstarter and because of YOU we are going to be able to take this film to the next level for this wounded warrior that is inspiring lives across the country! For each of you that helped share our story or back our project we consider you a hero and we are so grateful! To those who are still giving, thank you for your continued support as each dollar will be used to make this film.
Go Team Travis!
Below: Here is a little impromptu thank you from Producer, Katie Norris