As parents, we all want to help make our children’s dreams come true. But when you’re a parent of a child battling serious illness, that desire becomes even more intense.
No one knows this better than single mom of three, Kristy Somerset-Chiappalone of Connecticut. Her daughter Sophia was born with a serious heart defect, and at 5-years-old, she’s already endured three open heart surgeries. When they found out she would need another surgery in the next few months, Somerset-Chiappalone asked her daughter what she would most like to do before then.
“I offered maybe a few nights at an indoor water park resort if I could come up with some money,” she says. Sophia declined and said, “Mommy, I want to dress up and marry Hunter. Like a princess.”
Sophia met 6-year-old Hunter at Bible camp when she was 3 and he was 4. According to Hunter’s mom Tracy Laferriere, their friendship really blossomed in preschool. “They are adorable together …” she tells Babble. “They play, laugh, and just enjoy everything about each other.” When Kristy told Tracy about Sophia’s wedding idea, she was so touched that she decided to help make Sophia’s wish come true as best she could.
“Being that [the kids are] 5 and 6, I knew it couldn’t really happen,” Tracy says, “but I thought how special it could be for Sophia to be able to experience a mock wedding shoot and feel the joy of being in a wedding dress with her best friend.”
Tracy then broached the subject with her son, and says his first reaction was a “nervous giggle.” She reveals, “I asked if he’d be okay to take pictures with her in a pretend wedding … and he said yes if it would make Sophia happy. Knowing it would make her happy was all he needed to agree.”
Laferriere then asked her best friend and photographer, Marisa of Sassy Mouth Photography if she would capture the occasion. The photographer immediately agreed, and on October 23rd, the kids got all dressed up as their families gathered together at a local park for Sophia’s dream mock wedding and photo shoot. The sweet “bride” wore a dress donated by Bliss Bridal.
Sophia’s mom tells Cosmopolitan, “I teared up watching her get all dressed up … I was terrified once again, like so many other milestones and events, that this may be the only time I see my baby in a wedding dress, that her miracles and time would run out before that day.”
Laferriere tells Babble that “experiencing their photo shoot was sort of like a dream. I was holding in the tears witnessing their innocent, pure love in the most beautiful way. The weather was perfect, the setting just right. They laughed, played, ran, and played on the swings. It was two innocent kids who loved each other playing and being kids. Sophia was radiating.”
Photographer and friend Marisa, agrees. “It was sweet and beautiful,” she says. “I knew it was an important photo shoot, I paced around my studio for two hours preparing my brain for what was about to happen … [Sophia] beamed the entire time.”
Seeing Sophia so happy meant everything to her mom. Sophia has what’s called hypoplastic right heart syndrome with tetralogy of Fallot and pulmonary atresia and stenosis.
Her mother shares:
“Over time, this has caused failure in her lungs and damage to both her heart and lungs. Her prognosis is greatly unknown at this time. Surviving will include a lifetime of many open heart surgeries. Every doctor to date has said we are on borrowed time. Sophia’s heart is very complex and the chances of it taking her life are extremely high, even from a small cold or virus, my baby could be gone … that being said, we don’t call her Super Girl for nothing! She has a warrior will and smiles through what should kill her. So, my faith and hope prevail.”
Laferriere has set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds to help the family with past and future medical bills. Sophia’s next surgery, originally scheduled for November, has been moved to late January.
“Sophia has a light and it draws you in,” says Laferriere. “She inspires my family and I hoped the pictures would help surround her in love and prayers.”
While she never imagined these “wedding” photos would reach so many, she’s thankful people all over the world can witness the beauty of the experience. She hopes that Sophia’s story will help everyone “appreciate moments, help when you can, and most importantly, be kind.”