WALKERTOWN, N.C. -- When she was 12 weeks pregnant, Connie Smith told her family she was expecting twins.
“I delivered them at 27-and-a-half weeks. Collin was born, he weighed one pound 13 ounces and Conner weighed two pounds 14 ounces,” she said.
Unfortunately, Collin’s lungs didn’t develop enough for him to survive.
“I remember looking at him and he looked at me and I knew he was going to be OK and I just told them please stop working on him and let me enjoy this time with him. We spent nine hours loving him and holding him and telling him how perfect he was,” Smith said.
During that time, a photographer offered to capture the family’s journey in the NICU.
Initially, Smith wasn’t interested in having those final moments with Collin photographed, but that photographer, Deneen Bryan, helped her change her mind.
“She told me there's going to be a day that comes that you will want to see these pictures. I promise you,” Smith said.
Bryan’s daughter, Christina, passed away at 6 months old after having a liver transplant.
“Just before she passed away in 1998, a photographer came into the hospital and offered us photography,” Bryan said.
What that photographer did for her family inspired her to give back.
“I knew when I became a photographer, I told my husband, 'I want to do something with this that's going to help other families,'” she said.
Bryan is the executive director and founder of Capturing Hopes, a nonprofit that provides free professional photography for NICU families.
“A cell phone will capture a lot of ugly stuff, just a lot of cords and monitors. We blur out all of that ugly stuff and we focus in on the beauty of the baby and that's really the purpose of what we do,” she said.
Capturing Hopes started in Winston-Salem, but has expanded to Indianapolis, Orlando and Chicago, serving 4,000 to 5,000 families since 2013.
Smith is thankful for what Capturing Hopes gave her.
Her son Conner is a healthy 4-year-old boy.
“I've got those pictures to show Conner his big brother,” she said.
“You never know until it's all over with, how important those photos will be to you later on,” Bryan said.
The work Capturing Hopes does is volunteer based.
Fundraising efforts help cover the nonprofits expenses including informational material and setting up new programs.
Sunday, May 6, Capturing Hopes will hold its annual 5K and family festival at Shallowford Square in Lewisville to raise funds for its programs.