Saturday, May 15, 2021

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Sunflower photos capture a special friendship

On Sunday, front row (left to right) Jenna Brown and Madison Bright are two special young ladies who visit Colusa County for the first time over a request for their photos to be taken in Sunflowers. Back row (left to right) are Amy Bright, mother, Monica Sankey, organizer, Kelsea Whiting, photographer, and Shannen Brown, mother.

What started off as a small request of a sunflower photoshoot has bloomed into a bouquet of compassion from residents of Colusa County.

Madison Bright, a terminally ill young woman from Discovery Bay, was surprised on Sunday with an outpouring of hospitality by individuals who live and work in Colusa County.

The fundraiser, Sunflowers for Maddie, was started on June 10 by Monica Sankey, of the Colusa County Farm Bureau, when she was contacted by Shannen Brown, the mother of Bright’s friend, Jenna Brown, who suffers from the same condition. Both girls developed an immediate bond when circumstances put the two girls with an incredibly rare genetic disorder together.

“Since I was a little girl, sunflowers were my favorite,” said Bright. “Sunflowers turn their head and face the sun. When it’s cloudy, they turn towards each other to shine off each other’s light. I want to show that life is good no matter what you make of it.”

Fundraiser donations made it possible for Bright and her entourage to stay in a hotel after the two hour drive. On Monday, Jenna Kilgore Burnham did hair and makeup for Bright and Brown. Gift baskets with Younique, Origami Owl, and jewelry handmade by local residents were put into the rooms at Granzella’s, where they stayed. JJ Gross did an extra mosquito spray of his walnut orchard for a dinner, catered by Roccos and decorated by Ritchie’s. The whole event was caught on film by local photographer Kelsea Whiting, who has been involved with the event from the beginning, when Sankey reached out to her.

“I have been looking forward to this day for two to three weeks,” said Whiting. “Maddie’s story is one that needs to be shared, especially since she is able to stay so strong and happy through all that she has been through. I am so thankful that Monica put this together and asked me to be a part of it.”

At the age of 15, Bright was diagnosed with the most progressive form of Ehlers Danlos that her doctors at Stanford Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto said they had ever seen, according to Amy Bright, Madison’s mother. The disease weakens the connective tissues of the body, such as tendons and ligaments, making joints loose and skin easily bruised. It also can weaken blood vessels and organs.

Bright was crowned Queen in the Cinderella Scholarship Pageant in addition to being an artist and photographer. “I do lots of different art, pretty much anything my body will allow me to do that day,” said Bright. “I just want to express my pain through my art. It’s the healthiest expression in a way. It’s abstract art that looks kind of confusing but then you find a story and it makes sense.”

Both Bright and Brown endure frequent medical anomalies that constantly change. But they said they are happy to have found each other, kindred spirits that do not need to apologize for times when plans are thwarted due to medical issues.

Meanwhile, their stories of friendship and attitudes of hope continue to shine, reaching out to the hearts of complete strangers.

“I’ve just been blown away by the generosity of our community,” said Sankey. “It just makes me so proud of this county.”

The fundraiser overshot its $2,500 goal and Sankey said anything left over from the photoshoot will be donated to Bright’s medical expenses.

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