Q&A: Photographer Kimberly Wylie

A little more than a year ago, the walls of Presbyterian Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit were stark — nothing unusual for a hospital setting. Staff and visitors concerned with life and death matters didn’t think about it. But Lakewood resident and photographer KIMBERLY WYLIE, there visiting a client whose premature triplets were clinging to life, saw a need. Today, about $75,000 worth of Wylie’s photographs fill the previously empty space — black and white portraits of newborns, infants, children and families, each telling a story of hope and survival. Wylie says she donated the work to the Presbyterian Healthcare foundation because she wants people in those rooms to know “miracles do happen.”

What lead to this huge undertaking?
I felt a great deal of gratitude to families and friends in this community because I started my photography business as a very small enterprise — and only because of them it grew so fast. I wanted to give back somehow. Years ago, I had heard about a photography exhibit at a hospital in another part of the country featuring portraits of premature babies called “The Wall of Hope”. That had always stayed in the back of my mind. When one of my clients gave birth to triplets (each weighing about two pounds) and ended up spending three months in NICU, it really touched me. I wondered, how can we promote hope for families in this type of situation? The “Wall of Hope” came to mind. I thought: That would be so cool. What life it would add to the unit to have little lives put up for everyone to see.

How did you go about it?
I contacted the hospital and told them what I wanted to do. They were very cooperative. I then recruited about 200 clients to volunteer for the project. The only requirement was that the children were born at Presbyterian. I photographed the children of 45 families — most of them survivors of premature birth or medical complications.

How did people respond to the project, now called “The Walls and Halls of Hope”?
I’m not sure anyone saw that the walls of the hospital were lacking until they saw something on them. It’s interesting. I knew the parents and families appreciated it, but it wasn’t until the unveiling [in May 2008] that I realized the project’s effect on the doctors and nurses — the hospital staff. They all told me what a great gift it was, and some even cried when they unveiled the pictures. I hope it reminds [the staff] of the importance of what they are doing and of what happens there in the NICU. They are saving lives every day.

Why Presbyterian?
I picked Presbyterian because it is a wonderful hospital. That is where my children were born. Funny story: The hospital planned an unveiling party in early May. I was 38 weeks pregnant the day of the party, and everyone joked that I mustn’t go into labor. I made it through the party, got home that night and as soon as I got in bed, my water broke. I immediately returned to the hospital.

Editor’s note: That night, Wiley gave birth to daughter Akina Marie, her second child. Her son, Steel, is 3 years old.

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