TMC for Seniors director honored with Remarkable Mom recognition

IMG_0021Maya Luria’s heart shred watching her 17-year-old daughter, Kelsey, struggle in her battle with a rare and aggressive form of leukemia.

One painful memory was watching her daughter see herself for the first time during chemotherapy treatment without the long blonde locks that were such a hallmark for the high school senior.

But that was before she watched the surprisingly transformative power of a professional photo shoot, when she watched Kelsey ditch her wig and then light up, laugh and pose. It was an unplanned event – just a kind gesture from an acquaintance. But Kelsey had realized – hair or no – those resulting images reflected her own strength, confidence and determination.

She wanted other children and families to feel that same sense of empowerment in the face of what can be an unrelenting disease. In the hospital, Kelsey said she wanted the service to be called the Bald Beauties Project and it would offer free professional photographs to children and teens fighting cancer.

Drawn to journalism, writing and sports, the Catalina Foothills High student had planned to beat the disease and attend the University of Arizona. She passed away a few days after her 18th birthday.

Luria has kept Kelsey’s spirit alive by leading the Bald Beauties Project her daughter envisioned – an accomplishment that is being recognized at the annual Remarkable Celebration by Tu Nidito that this year is honoring five local mothers.

“Kelsey once wrote that she would change the world and this is our way of honoring that,” Luria said. “This was her vision and something I want to continue to offer to others as a way to help families who are going through unthinkable strain.”

Luria, also mom to 17-year-old Max – the light of her life and now a high school senior – has treasured those photos of her daughter.

Since its inception, the Bald Beauties Project has provided more than 85 photo shoots for children throughout the community – and the demand continues to grow. There have already been 15 photo shoots this year, with another 10 in process.

“I feel every mom is a remarkable mom, so I was really honored to be considered for this recognition,” Luria said, and especially since Kelsey gave her back so much. “Kelsey lived her life with strength and courage and love – and that’s something I hold with me every day.”

To read more about Bald Beauties, please visit the Bald Beauties Project website.  

To learn more about the Remarkable Moms being honored May 12, please visit Tu Nidito’s website 

Always Remembered. Always Loved.

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The baby books, photo albums and family pictures showed love-filled images of those lost too soon. An early page in one baby book declares “It’s a boy!” in gold metallic script next to the identifying sonagram. Other familiar poses: expectant mother in profile, father with head down and hand on baby bump. Snapshots told of birthday parties, Christmas mornings, trips to beach and special times.

These treasured keepsakes were from some 30 families gathered together on Saturday at TMC for Always Loved, a pediatric memorial event to share, remember and honor the short lives of their children. This the first semiannual memorial was a way to support the families and to remember these TMC children who have passed away and to recognize that these families will always be tied to the hospital.

Some were born too soon or born with medical issues that would shorten their lives. Others would pass from unexpected illness or injury. While their deaths left holes in the hearts of many, for a couple hours on this sun-filled warm spring day, their families and the doctors, nurses and staff who cared for them, remembered and celebrated their lives.

Speaking to the more than 100 people in attendance was Jennette Maré, who founded Ben’s Bells, following the death of her son more than 10 years ago. Kindness was at the root of her recovery from the devastation of losing her 3-year-old son from croup.

“I looked ordinary on the outside, but I was shattered on the inside,” she said, sharing a feeling she knew most in the audience could understand. And she discovered how small acts of kindness were “amazingly powerful” in her grieving. She recalled how a student at the university where she taught opened the door for her, smiled and wished her a good morning. “I wanted to tell him that his gesture of connection saved me in that moment.”

It was those acts of humanity that inspired her to create the Ben’s Bells Project to support intentional acts of compassion. “The walking wounded are all around us,” she said. “Every time we offer a gesture of kindness we have no idea how meaningful it can be.”

After she spoke, the names of more than 160 children were read one by one. Drew Cooper set an uplifting, centering mood with his acoustical guitar.  Each family in attendance came forward upon the reading of their child’s name to receive a Ben’s Bell from one of the chaplains at TMC.

Hearing the name of one family, pediatric hospitalist Rebecca Egbert, M.D. stepped up to personally bestow a bell on a mother whose daughter she had cared for. “It was a chance to connect and to honor that girl,” she said later. The memorial, she explained, “helps me re-center and reminds me of why I do what I do.”

At the end of the reading of the names, one mother bravely stepped forward to share the name of Alexander Flurer, her son, who passed away four years ago. Shannon Flurer,  who works in the TMC Emergency department, wants to help others who have lost a child, and has agreed to speak at the next Always Loved event in October.

After a moment of silence, enthusiastic bell ringing commenced and then it was playtime. Stations were set up for beading with Beads of Courage, painting river rocks with Tu Nidito and painting kindness coins for Ben’s Bells. Two pet therapy teams ventured by. The canines provided tail-wagging affection while sniffing out morsels of donated cinnamon rolls dropped by distracted children.

People congregated again near the memento tables. Families and staff hugged. They asked after each other, shared stories, laughed and shed tears. There’s the memory book of a handsome baby boy, born some 14 weeks early, weighing less than 2 pounds. His tiny body has small tubes attached. Photos show his parents tending to him in his isolette and the look of joy when they finally get to hold him all swaddled in a blanket.

His photo album is little more than half filled before it ends. Some final photos and handwritten consoling words before his birth certificate, then his death certificate end the book of his short life. This little one may be gone, but like the rest of these children, he will be always  remembered, always loved.

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