by Susan B. Markisz
This was one of those stories I instinctively knew had the potential to transcend the newspaper paradigm of single photo as defining moment. The story, about preemies and the medical disabilities and emotional complications that often follow them and their families through childhood into adulthood, was assigned as a day following doctors their patients, rather than a day or week-in-the-life visual of the actual ramifications of having a disabled child.
Clearly the photo desk had hopes that the picture would illustrate something beyond the obvious. But for all intents and purposes, it was a one-shot, one-day deal. And there were no guarantees. The writer was coming to New York from the Washington bureau to interview two doctors who treat children with disabilities. No patient had yet agreed to be interviewed or photographed. I was assigned to stay with the writer during the day, as we went from a clinic at Bronx Lebanon Hospital, which treats older children, to the neonatal intensive care unit at Montefiore Medical Center, where we hoped to get permission to interview parents of preemies.
The first family we encountered had a powerful story. Jacqueline Reyes and her son, 5 year old Dominick were at the clinic for a checkup. Dominick was born prematurely and has severe cerebral palsy. Dominick cannot walk; his speech is impaired and his stiff limbs have made it almost impossible for Jacqueline to carry him around anymore. Until a year ago Jacqueline didn't know she was entitled to government assistance. Until a year ago, she didn't have a wheelchair for Dominick. She and her two sons live on the second floor of a walk-up apartment building, with no elevator, in the Soundview section of the Bronx. A single mother, she has very little outside support and her life, even with a wheelchair for her disabled son, is not easy. While most of us mindlessly perform dozens of daily tasks with the comforts of elevator, car, and able-bodied children, Jacqueline runs a marathon up and down the stairs several times a day, carrying Dominick downstairs and leaving him with his older brother, who is 8, while she rushes back upstairs to get the wheelchair. She repeats this every time she leaves her apartment to walk her older son to or from school, do grocery shopping, or laundry.
While the writer eloquently described the Reyes' family plight, I would have liked to accompany Jacqueline Reyes home to document the difficulties she and her sons have to face every day. Unfortunately, this did not fit into the prescribed newspaper model. Was my picture worth a thousand words? In the course of that particular day, perhaps it captured an emotionally defining moment of the difficulties and frustrations of the mother and child, but there was more to say.
The pictures in the NIC Unit segued nicely into the Reyes story. But the preemie pictures didn't really tell the story of the continuing struggles of being disabled, or having a disabled child. The story was about children who were born prematurely and the difficulties they face growing up. In my opinion, we didn't illustrate the difficulties. As a photojournalist, I feel we told only half the story.
Susan B. Markisz
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