Grieving father's simple request touches strangers' hearts

Jul 15, 2014 at 8:00 p.m. ET

A father from Ohio who lost his 6-week-old baby daughter last week posted an interesting request to Reddit users. What may seem like a simple request was so very meaningful to the parents of the baby girl. They asked people to edit and remove the tubes and machines that kept her alive — so they could see her face once more.

"My daughter recently passed away after a long battle in the children's hospital," Nathen Steffel wrote. "Since she was in the hospital her whole life, we never were able to get a photo without all her tubes. Can someone remove the tubes from this photo?" His simple request on Reddit brought an outpouring of support from Reddit users who took their photo-editing talents and turned them into a special gift of love.

A life cut short

Baby sophia photoshop |

From the very first pregnancy ultrasound, Sophia's mom knew something wasn't quite right. Little Sophia was born May 30 and was hospitalized for the entire six weeks of her short life, tethered to tubes and machines that kept her alive. It turned out that Sophia suffered from a hepatic hemangioma, which is the most common type of liver tumor. Sophia spent time after she was born at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, then moved to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, which has a more specialized group of liver surgeons and experts available to care for her. Baby Sophia was in need of a liver transplant and on the transplant list, but unfortunately died on July 10.

Seeing their baby's face

It seems like a simple enough request — to have a photograph of your baby's face. But when your newborn is critically ill, those tubes and wires that keep her alive are also hiding her sweet little face. Losing a newborn is one of the most difficult things for a parent to go through, and photographs can help them in their grief and help them retain the memory of their newborn in the years to come.

Baby sophia photoshop |

The response to Steffel's request was overwhelming. Commenters submitted many beautiful retouched photographs of baby Sophia that let her parents see her sweet face once more, free from tubes and wires. A few people even sent drawings of Sophia to the grief-stricken parents.

Baby sophia drawing |

In a brief statement to TODAY Parents, Steffel explained his motives behind the Reddit request. "I didn't really want all the publicity, I just wanted a picture," Steffel wrote in an email. "What I received was a whole lot of love and support from complete strangers."

Baby sophia drawing |

For all of the nasty comments, internet trolls and general bashing we tend to see online, this story was a refreshing reminder that when the stakes are down, we can reach out to other people — and many will reach back.

More on infant loss

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A grieving mom describes life after SIDS
What to say to a friend who has lost a baby