A Hero's Focus: Developing Imagination and Potential

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If there’s anything we can learn from the tremendous success of superhero-themed movies at the Box Office, it would have to be this: Every great hero needs a great origin story.

One of our favorites is about mild-mannered Peter Parker. As a shy orphan with an uncommon affinity for science, Peter was just a normal adolescent at Midtown High School. One fateful day at a science exhibit, he was bitten by an irradiated spider, receiving the arachnid’s strength, agility, and web-climbing abilities. The rest, as you probably recognize, is Spiderman lore.

Caped crusader or not, Peter still needed to pay the bills. So he took a freelance job as a photographer, selling pictures of himself as Spiderman to the irascible publisher of the Daily Bugle.

It may sound like a peculiar occupation for a web-slinger, but as it turns out, Spiderman is in good company. There’s another photographer-turned-hero, who devotes her time and talents to make the students of Anne Carlsen feel super about their own abilities. And, just like your friendly-neighborhood Spiderman, the owner of Happy Mermaid Images has a fascinating backstory as well. 

The idea was simple: take photos of every Anne Carlsen student in their favorite superhero costume, to send to the students’ family or hang in their residential living space. But as the day unfolded, it became abundantly clear that this wouldn’t be a simple event – this was going to be something epic. Commanding theme music blared from the speakers. Dramatic “smoke” billowed from a nearby fog machine. Dozens of costumes - from every corner of the Marvel universe- anxiously awaited their hero’s selection. Faster than a speeding bullet, the auditorium was transformed into a fortress of excitement and imagination.

Among the smiles, capes, masks, and props, stood Lisa Lang, orchestrating the shoot with a calm intensity that Alfred (Bruce Wayne’s stalwart butler) would admire. 

Lisa Lang

Proud mom and owner of Happy Mermaid Images, Lisa Lang

To capture a moment - to discard distraction, evoke an emotion, and deliver it with intent - requires patience and instinct. These qualities have served Lisa well, both at home and in the studio. Warm, introspective, and a bit of a fast-talker, Lisa and husband Brian are no strangers to Anne Carlsen. Their eleven-year-old daughter Emilie receives out-patient therapy services at the Center, while Brian – a Philosophy professor at the University of Jamestown – has presented ethics lectures to senior Anne Carlsen staff.

Photographer and philosophy buff already make for an interesting duo; add to the mix their oldest son Isaiah and four adopted children (Abraham and Hana [from Ethiopia], Elia and Emilie [from Taiwan]), and you’ll find a rich mosaic of cultures coalescing as one… united in a common name and family heritage. It’s uniquely beautiful and undeniably special.

Which brings us to Emilie.

Every good hero needs a trusty sidekick. Lisa’s partner-in-crime has long dark hair, brown oval eyes, and a smile that seems ever poised for the thrill of a new discovery. She’s a bit shorter than her peers, but her presence is still felt whenever she enters a room.

“Emilie is a people person. She loves people, and she’s so imaginative,” Lisa says. “Above all, Emilie is kind, which I think can be harder with people who have physical limitations, because others don’t always understand their frustrations. I like that about her.”
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Emily and her Physical Therapist Natalie Lonnberg

Emilie was born with the effects of amniotic banding. The condition occurs during pregnancy, where the amniotic sac is partially ruptured. The errant bands from the amniotic sac can wrap around different parts of the developing child, causing loss of circulation to the constricted area. In Emilie’s case, both of her legs were entrapped by the bands. One leg had to be amputated, while the other was severely clubbed, deficient in nerve endings.

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Emily takes a break from riding to pose for mom
At a very young age, Emilie was fitted for a prosthetic. But, as Lisa says, this wouldn’t be a silver bullet: “Most people with prosthetics can walk fairly easily. Emilie’s issue is her other side is so weak. That’s why she benefits so much from Anne Carlsen’s physical therapy,” she said.

For three times a week, Emilie and Lisa arrived at Anne Carlsen for comprehensive physical therapy sessions. There they would learn to build strength, utilize adaptive movements, and increase motion. The process involves constantly testing Emilie, challenging her to reach new levels of mobility. And in all likelihood, it will be a life-long one - still, Emilie embraces it. She recognizes the journey is hers to make, so she’s adopting goals to advance forward.

“She’s a smart girl. She knows she’s going to have to do this her whole life, and so it’s so important she’s learning how to set goals and achieve them.”

Of course, she won’t go it alone. Someone who's been by her side from the very beginning is Natalie Lonnberg, Emilie’s Physical Therapist. “Emilie is a charming, strong, and determined young woman. I can't wait to follow her through adulthood to see the career she chooses and to see her independence grow,” Natalie said. Through her expertise, passion, and commitment, Natalie has already witnessed many of these moments. In fact, a big one happened just a few weeks ago, when she asked Emilie to walk without her brace lock activated. It would be a demanding challenge, requiring Emilie to support more weight on her knee than she’s previously encountered. But with grit, focus, and the supportive words of a cheering therapist, Emilie put one foot over the other, completing the exercise. When Brian picked Emilie up from her session, he was greeted by a proud little girl with a triumphant grin and a story to tell.

Stories like Emilie’s unfold each day at Anne Carlsen. You can hear them in the offices and breakrooms, between colleagues or among guests. Listening to those stories – and relating them to you – is one of the highest privileges of working at Anne Carlsen. But the written word has its limitations.

A picture, as the old saying goes, is worth a thousand words. After admiring the smiles you see here, I’ll bet you can guess a few of them: joy. Ability. Imagination. Gifts captured and kept for families to treasure forever.

It’s all in a day’s work for two Happy Mermaids.