By Dave Andrusko
October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and I’m guessing that few people will make a more lasting contribution this year than Rhode Island photographer Laura Kilgus.
Some of the powerfully inspirational images taken by the 29-year-old Kilgus are now being recognized by national media outlets, including the Today Show, WTXF 29, a Fox News affiliate, and ABC News.
According to WTXF, one of those images has gone viral.
Kilgus, who volunteers her expertise to the Down Syndrome Society of Rhode Island, “created the portrait of 5-year-old Celia, which quickly went viral,” WTXF reported. “Celia is battling cancer and has Down syndrome. ‘Seeing her and the others react to their photos was priceless. Their happiness was so contagious,’” Kilgus told FOX 29.
What was the inspiration? Her nephew Tommy, who born about five years ago in Buffalo, New York. Tommy has Down syndrome. Kilgus wanted to honor Tommy in a special way. “That’s when Laura reached out to the DSSRI to offer her photography services to the organization to help raise awareness for the cause.”
To the families of DSSRI, Ms. Kilgus offers free mini photoshots “and the images are showcased in the galleries like the one Celia was featured in,” FOX 29 reported.
“The kids from the DSSRI are seriously some of the most inspiring, funny and happiest children I have ever met. What has been most special has been getting a lot of one-on-one time with these families over the years during our minishoots. The gallery was just my way to try to thank them for raising such cool kids, and to let them know that they are appreciated for all that they do daily, and to raise awareness for Down syndrome.”
But five-year-old Celia’s recent reaction to her photo, taken a year ago when she had hair, is, as they say, priceless.
“[Celia] was thrilled,” mom Katie Furtado of Cranston, R.I., told ABC News today. “When she saw it, she started screaming and pointing to herself. I think the whole world looks at Celia differently now since she doesn’t have any hair and she’s lost a lot of weight, but I was relieved that Celia still sees Celia.”
Celia had been diagnosed with B-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. Furtado told ABC News’ Nicole Pelletiere, “A lot of her personality was put on hold for quite a few months, but like I said to someone the other day, ‘She’s back.”
As Pelletiere explained
On Oct. 1, Kilgus hosted a gallery for Down Syndrome Awareness Month at the Warwick Public Library, where she displayed her photography, including shots of Celia and her sister Ava.
As the Furtado family arrived at the event, Kilgus took another photo of Celia — this time, capturing her tear-jerking reaction while viewing a portrait of herself.