Ohio infant’s death creates the image of kindness


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KALIDA, Ohio — Nathen and Emily Steffel never got the chance to photograph their infant daughter, Sophia, while she was unhooked from the tubes that were keeping her alive at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

After Sophia’s death last Thursday at 6 weeks of age, her father submitted her photo, with her tiny limbs encircled in plastic, to the social networking Web site Reddit.

“Can someone remove the tubes from this photo?” Mr. Steffel asked in his post.

Over the past four days, the Steffels have received hundreds of sketches, paintings, and enhanced photographs of their daughter in which her tubes are nowhere to be found. The post on Reddit has received 1,400 replies and counting, including condolences, stories of shared circumstances, illustration advice, and posts urging the Reddit respondents to “please keep going.”

Sophia, who died of complications from a liver tumor, had been awaiting a transplant when she died. Devan Von Sossan, a friend of Emily Steffel, said the Steffels knew from Emily Steffel’s first ultrasound that something was wrong, but had not expected the baby’s condition to become so poor.

Mr. Steffel said he looked for help on Reddit despite worrying that the post would receive a negative reaction. The responders’ generosity, he said, has been overwhelming.

“All I wanted was a nice picture,” he wrote on Reddit. “What I received was a lot of love and support from a bunch of strangers.”

Offers to help have flooded in, even from inexperienced designers.

“I made an account for this,” one user wrote. “I’m a Photoshop newbie ... but I decided to at least try,” wrote another. Yet another post read “I couldn't sleep without at least trying.” One user promised to memorialize Sophia with 3-D printing, and another with a woven blanket displaying Sophia’s picture.

The village rallied around the family upon learning of the baby’s illness, as it frequently has done for community members in need, said Sandy Westrick, owner of Uptown Interior Designs in Kalida. A small bouquet was left outside the family’s home on Tuesday, and Ms. Von Sossan said residents had put up a donation box at a local bank.

“It’s just awesome that even complete strangers took the time and effort to work on this photo,” Ms. Westrick said. “It can be easy for people to Photoshop something nowadays, but sometimes people won’t take the time to be humane. But just when you think there aren’t very good people like that around anymore, you get surprised.”


The Block News Alliance consists of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. Jennifer Gersten is a reporter for The Blade.

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