Ashley Tombrello is an 18 year old high school senior who dreams of someday becoming a model. Recently, she had the opportunity of a lifetime to travel to New York with her family, to have her dreams come true for a day. Like many teenage girls, Ashley is a cheerleader who loves shopping and hanging out with friends, but unlike many her age, Ashley struggles with the life-threatening illness known as Cystic Fibrosis.
Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is a dangerous genetic disorder that primarily affects the lungs and digestive system. Individuals with CF are extremely susceptible to various infections, especially lung infections, and pancreatic cysts, and those who struggle with the illness have difficulty breaking down and absorbing food. Although there is treatment for CF, currently there is no cure, so treatment becomes a lifetime commitment.
Ashley was diagnosed with CF when she was just two years old, and doesn't remember a time when she hasn't struggled. "She's been fortunate," her mom Margie explains, "many children can do all the treatments and therapies and it's still not enough. Many of them have to get lung transplants. "
Still, Ashley has extraordinary challenges to overcome. "I wake up at five every morning to do an hour and half worth of treatments before school." She describes, "And I have to take medicine to school with me, inhalers that sort of thing." When asked about how many hours per day is dedicated to treatment, "About 3-4 on average, sometimes more," she answers. "I have my good days and my bad days, I have to sleep a lot and sometimes it's really difficult. I try to stay positive and not let it get me down."
Several years ago, Ashley's mom Margie had sent an application to Magic Moments, at the recommendation of Birmingham Children's Hospital, for her daughter, and had been accepted. Magic Moments, founded in 1984 and based in Birmingham, Alabama, is an independent, nonprofit organization that fulfills the non-medical wishes of chronically ill children from Alabama, and helps brings joy to kids in life-threatening situations.
The family had decided to wait a while, however, because Ashley wanted to wait until she was a bit older, when she would be able to fully appreciate and remember the experience. So in late 2012, just before her eighteenth birthday, Ashley's application was reopened. She was going to go to New York City for the first time in her young life, and her family would be able to join her.
Magic Moments, thanks to the generous donations from various individuals, corporations, foundations, and civic groups, was able to send Ashley, her parents, and a close friend to New York all expenses paid. "Magic Moments helps open doors for these children and their family." Executive Director of Magic Moments, Joyce Spielberger explains, "Most families in these situations don't have the opportunity to travel, they can't just take off like typical families because it's expensive to transport medical equipment. When we send them on a trip, we take care of everything both medical and non-medical, so they can go and really enjoy themselves, without having to worry about anything."
All the arrangements were made, they just needed to find a photographer. Allison McClellan, the statewide coordinator for Magic Moments, contacted Ken Jones, the lead photographer, owner, and creative director of New York's Fulton Studios, to see if he would be interested in helping to grant Ashley's wish of being a model for a day. He certainly was. "He seemed so compassionate, like he really wanted to help." Allison said of Ken, "I just felt he was perfect for the job."
On the day of the shoot, Ashley arrived with her family. "It was amazing!" Ashley exclaimed, "When we got there they had a rack of clothes for me, and T did my hair and makeup. I just felt so relaxed. It wasn't like Ken and T were strangers, but like I had known them my whole life."
For Ashley, the entire trip was the experience of a lifetime. "I'm just so grateful," she explains, "it's a blessing what Magic Moments does for kids like me with life-threatening illnesses. When I was there, I didn't think about being sick."
The trip wasn't just a great experience for Ashley, but for the entire family. "As a parent, to see the complete happiness on Ashley's face after she had been through so much, and to be able to be there to share that happiness with her, just made the trip even more special."
In the short time since the shoot, doors are already opening for Ashley. Her driver during the trip, after seeing her pictures, was able to connect her to a client interested in having her modeling for them. She couldn't have been more thrilled.
Ashley graduates from high school in May 2013 and plans to attend Troy University, where she wants to major in Pediatric medicine and do modeling on the side. "I grew up with Children's Hospital," she said, "and I've always had a fascination with being a doctor, and I love children and would really like to help them."
But whatever Ashley does next, whether its modeling or pediatric nursing or just simply dealing with the challenges of being a college student, she will always be able to look back on this trip, a time of incredible joy where she didn't feel sick, a magic moment she will remember for the rest of her life.