An Australian photographer, known for high-end modeling shoots and elaborate children’s portraits, was preparing to leave work one night when a woman entered the store with her young daughter in tow.

His studio’s policy stated that they did not accept walk-ins and required reservations six months in advance, and after the long day he had just experienced, the photographer almost sent the woman away.

Then he caught a glimpse of her daughter, peering out behind her mom.

She was extremely thin, no hair, dark circles under her eyes, and a tube emerging from her nose. The photographer surmised that she was extremely sick and probably didn’t have much longer to live.

With tears in her eyes, the little girl’s mother explained how her daughter had seen one of his photographs on one of the walls at the hospital. The photo depicted a girl riding a photoshopped unicorn. The little girl wanted one, too.

The photographer recounted this story on Not Always Right:

I realize that our next available appointment is probably way too far away for this particular kid. The little girl squeezes her mother’s hand. I am a very big dude, covered in tattoos and a beard, but I’m not ashamed to say I needed a minute before I spoke.

Without skipping a beat, he told the little girl:

“I’ve been waiting all day to take a photo of someone as beautiful as you! What’s your name, sweetheart?”

The photographer dug through his closet and pulled out all of the princess props and costumes he could find. He was impressed with how well-behaved the little girl was and spent three hours taking her photos.

Following the shoot, he went through the photos with her mom and asked her if she wanted to retouch any of them. Her mom replied that she didn’t because her daughter was already starting to worry that she wasn’t pretty anymore.

Before leaving, the mom held out her credit card to pay for the photoshoot, but the photographer turned the money down. The mom insisted, but the photographer again refused her, saying:

“I am not taking money for this. No way in hell.”

A few days later, the photographer sent the photos to the mother/daughter duo but never heard back from them. He wondered about the family, how the little girl was feeling, and if the photos he took of her made a difference in her life.

Six months later, he was closing his store for the night when he saw the little girl at the window. He was astonished to see that she no longer looked pale and weak, but had gained weight and looked flush, and her hair had started to grow back. The girl had a big smile on her face and was waving excitedly.

The photographer opened the door and the girl said to him, “Hi! I’m better! Look, I’m better!”

Again, the mother offered to pay for the shoot, extending an envelope filled with cash, but the photographer still refused to allow her to pay. Frustrated, the mom asked if they could at least take him out for dinner. He accepted the invitation and he recounted what happened next:

Seven years later that photo of a sick little girl astride a giant pink unicorn is in a frame in my lounge room. My now-step-daughter groans every time I point it out to the friends she brings home!

The photographer and the mom ended up falling in love, getting married, and that sick little girl he photographed after-hours had become his daughter.

Beautiful.

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