By Michael Prince, Photographer
Through my camera’s lens, I’ve seen a little bit of everything. I’ve worked in China, India, Africa, South America and Europe. I’ve photographed an auto factory in Argentina, a rice paddy in India, a waterfall in Costa Rica and a malaria clinic in Zambia. I’ve taken pictures of Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Oprah and, yes, Justin Beiber.
But by far the most intense and emotionally challenging project I’ve ever done was the 19 days I spent at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
I saw chemotherapy infusions. Scars, casts, tears and tubes. Lots of wires. Kids going home, and kids coming in. In my whole life, I’d only ever known two kids who got seriously sick. It was shocking to see a whole hospital full of them. The first couple of days were really tough, and tears were shed. But then something pretty cool happened; I was able to see beyond their hardship and just look at them as kids. I joked around like I always do, and got them to laugh for a bit, and maybe even forget they were sick for a little while. It was great.
From the cafeterias to the nurses’ stations, I met people I’ll never forget. Doctors. Paramedics. School teachers. Nurses. Among the patients was one who really stood out: 3-year-old Mya with blonde hair, blue eyes and wisdom better suited for someone 10 times her age. When we met, she looked right at me and said, “My heart is broken, and I’m waiting for my new one to come in the mail.” In other words, she needed a heart transplant. And soon.
As she showed me her wires—this goes here, this does that, that does this—I was amazed by her medical vocabulary. I’ll never forget Mya’s voice, face or patient room. The walls were plastered with hundreds of cards, and well-worn toys were everywhere. Mya was not a visitor; she lived here.
As I reviewed the thousands of photos from the multi-week shoot, Mya stood out. Her curiosity and strength—I never saw a single tear—came to life, even in photographs.
As I moved onto other projects in new cities with new subjects, my mind often turned to Mya. What had become of the sharp, young girl who was waiting for a new heart “to come in the mail?” I later learned that—after living in the hospital for almost half the year—Mya received a successful heart transplant and was doing very well…at home. The best news.
One day in March, I got a call from Children’s. The photos I’d taken of Mya had inspired Children’s to bring Mya’s spirit to life in the form of a TV commercial. This strong but fragile child perfectly embodied everything I’d experienced at Children’s. She was the perfect person to portray the spirit of Children’s.
These days, I’m hugging my children a little tighter. And, sometimes, when I put something “in the mail,” I think of the amazing little girl who has touched more lives than she or her family will ever know.