Capturing Hope and Healing

The phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words” is often thrown around, but when it comes to capturing moments that can never be repeated, photographer Debbie Lee truly understands the meaning.

Over the last two years, Debbie has volunteered her time to photograph hundreds of babies in the neonatal intensive care unit at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland. These photos are for the families – precious images that document the beginning of their child’s life. What Debbie gets in return is just as meaningful.

“I fall in love with every child I photograph, and I’ve been told that love comes through in my photos. That’s the best compliment.” − Debbie Lee

The mother of two grown children, Lee started volunteering at the hospital’s Katie’s Clinic for Rett Syndrome when her kids were in high school. Housed on our Walnut Creek campus, this clinic specializes in Rett syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that primarily affects girls and is marked by developmental reversals. “One thing all the girls have in common is that they are excellent communicators using their eyes,” shares Debbie. “I try to capture that in my photos. I want to portray every girl the way her parents see her, the way I see her, the way the world should see her.”

Debbie started photographing NICU patients in 2014. “Having a child in the hospital is intense and emotional,” she says. “Most parents take their babies home soon after birth, take family photos and have visitors. That’s not the case in the NICU. I hope that taking photos offers these families some normalcy and a bit of joy in a very abnormal situation.”

Volunteering her time at Children’s has special meaning for Debbie. Years ago, her good friend Cathy lost a son in the NICU. They only have one family photo, taken with a Polaroid. It’s faded now, and Cathy wishes she had more images of those tender last moments. That’s what motivates Debbie to take meaningful photos for families during the most trying of times.

“I love being around the incredibly talented doctors, nurses, and staff in the NICU. I’m privileged to witness and document the miracles they perform each and every day,” says Debbie.