Olivia Enderle and her mother Emily never envisioned how special they’d feel walking into a professional portrait session. Olivia was given the opportunity to become a beautiful princess and a chef, whipping up her favorite recipe. Surrounded by brilliantly colored balloons, she had the time of her life.
Olivia was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that inhabits nerve cells, when she was 13 months old. At the time of diagnosis, she had a tumor in her abdomen, experienced kidney failure and had only eight percent heart function. She spent the year enduring eight rounds of chemo, several life-threatening infections, surgeries and the loss of function to both kidneys. At 14 months old, she started dialysis yet she still had her left kidney removed. Olivia went through six years of dialysis but the need for a transplant was inevitable. Such a procedure was deemed difficult as the result of damage from multiple rounds of chemo and dialysis.
After a transplant in Minnesota in January 2015 ended in disappointment, doctors discovered that her parents, Emily and Mike, couldn’t be donors. Olivia needed a miracle. In search of a donor through friends, family and Facebook, over 100 volunteers stepped up yet none were approved. Just when all seemed lost, a miracle happened. In April 2016, the Enderle family went to Buffalo Wild Wings to celebrate Olivia’s 7th birthday.
“When we walked in, my sister and her family were sitting at a table under a big T.V.,” explained Emily. “I looked up and saw [Detroit Tigers Pitcher] Justin Verlander on the T.V. Then, I noticed what he was saying … he was announcing my sister was the donor! She stood there with a stuffed kidney pillow and said, ‘It’s me!’”
Today, Olivia is a spunky, beautiful 8-year-old girl. The Enderle family is thankful that The Oldham Project could provide the portrait session for Olivia, who was given a reason to smile again.
The Oldham Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to providing portrait sessions to those suffering from life threatening or terminal illnesses. The organization was conceived to document the lives of those fighting a battle for their lives.
“I knew, as a photographer, I could make people look good,” said Oldham Project’s Founder, Terri Shaver. “These people with cancer really needed to look good, and more importantly, feel better about themselves. I want to help them escape the thought of treatment, chemo, needles and fear for just one day. These portraits are much, much more than pretty pictures. They represent a journey that many of us, or someone we love, will take. They are images of strength and determination. Many times they illustrate the beauty hiding behind hair.”
The Oldham Project held its annual fundraising gala on May 2 at Eagle Eye Golf Club. More than 100 people enjoyed a silent auction and dinner while listening to testimonials by Emily and Olivia Enderle and breast cancer survivor, Alexis Schneider. The event raised more than $20,000 which will be used to support The Oldham Project’s mission. For more information, visit theoldhamproject.org.