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Photographer Creates A Tribute To His Newborn Son

Palo Alto, CA –What should have been the most joyous day in the lives of Lincoln Hale Turner and his wife, Cindy, turned quickly into the most horrifying. Moments after their son, Graham, was born, he was whisked away.

“A couple of minutes had passed and we still had not heard the baby cry,” Lincoln recalls. “I peeked around the curtain and saw him lying limp on the table having a tube inserted down his throat. I knew immediately something was terribly wrong.”

Graham was born with respiratory failure caused by meconium aspiration syndrome, a result of having his first bowel movement while still in his mother’s womb. After 17 hours of intensive care, Graham showed no sign of improvement. He was placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, a heart and lung bypass machine. It was Graham’s last hope. Lincoln and Cindy were told he had an 80 percent chance of dying in the process of going onto the ECMO machine, but a 90 percent chance of living once on it.

Turner, an acclaimed photographer, chronicled the following days’ events in a series called “Technology and the Will to Live.” The exhibit will be on display in the lobby of Lucile Salter Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, April 20-27.

“From the beginning I was photographing,” says Turner. “At first the doctors and nurses thought I was little crazy. After a day or two, someone asked me why I was taking so many photographs. I explained that I was an artist and this was my way of coping with the situation.”

Turner began writing his thoughts of those first few days. He coupled his writing with the photographs. The result is a series of large mixed-media pieces done in three layers – two separate layers of text silk-screened onto Plexiglass and one layer of image. Sheets of stainless steel act as a uniform background for each piece and as a metaphor for the hospital. Looking at them head-on the viewer first encounters Turner’s writing, followed by a layer of medical jargon, then the photographic image.

“Each layer moves in relation to the others which in turn conveys the confusion I felt,” explains Turner. “For example, sometimes the doctors would explain things I did not understand, so I would ask for another explanation, or the equipment would obscure my view of Graham, so I would move. I was essentially repositioning myself to better understand the situation. So it is with the series. Something that might be obscured from one angle will become clear from another.”

One of the eight pieces in the series features an X-ray taken during the ECMO procedure. The front layer of red ink is Turner’s written thoughts when Graham was 17 hours old:

Dear Son,
When I arrived at the NICU the nurses asked if I had a Polaroid camera. I should be sure and take some pictures they said. They asked if your mother and I had given you a name. “Not yet,” I replied. Perhaps they thought this was all we would have to remember you by.

Today, Graham is a healthy 2-year-old. Turner’s exhibit is a tribute to his wife and son “and,” he says, “all of the doctors, nurses and staff at hospitals everywhere who work hard for the children with whom they come into contact.”

The Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health was established in 1996 and does all fundraising for Lucile Packard Children’s Health Services at Stanford and UCSF, as well as the pediatric medical and surgical programs of the respective schools of medicine.