Nadine Saviano created her non-profit “God Winks” in 2015. Since then, she’s helped hundreds if families including the Pitillo’s, Moorhouse’s & Ostrander’s.
ELLICOTTVILLE, N.Y. — Even the most contagious smile cannot outdo the one Greg and Becky Pitillo almost didn’t have.
“They didn’t think (Nathan) was going to leave the hospital,” Greg said. “Something was going on with his brain and underdevelopment.”
The couple found that out when Becky Pitillo was only 18 weeks pregnant with son Nathan.
When born, Nathan’s head was smaller than his brain, creating a malformation. He left the NICU and went into hospice care.
“They couldn’t really give us a timeline but it was short,” Becky said.
“There’s no real way to prepare for that emotionally,” Greg said.
Of all things, doctors inspired the Pitillo’s to do a family photo shoot.
“That was probably the furthest thing from the top of my mind,” Becky said.
They did it through God Winks, a photography non-profit run by Ellicottville native Nadine Saviano.
“When these little signs from above that I call God Winks just got so frequent and overwhelming, I just stopped one day and looked up to the sky and said ok, I’m going to do this. Get me through it,” Saviano said.
UPLIFTING XMAS STORY: An Ellicottville photographer helps families living with a diagnosis. Tonight on @WGRZ at 6:00, I’ll introduce you to just 3 of the hundreds of families Nadine Saviano has helped to “just be a family” since 2015. pic.twitter.com/57DXJPQcjT
— Danielle Church (@daniellejchurch) December 24, 2021
She winked right back, creating her side hobby in 2015 and providing families what a diagnosis often can’t.
“It was one of the first major family things that we did when we got home that was when we weren’t thinking about everything going on,” Greg said.
“It’s a lot of hope,” Saviano said.
Hope that has no price tag.
“It’s actually my screensaver on my cellphone as well so I see it everyday,” said Tammy Moorhouse. “I think that everybody’s got some special memory from that day.”
Saviano took photos of Moorhouse right before the final wedding anniversary she and husband Jeffrey would celebrate together, before he lost his battle to ALS last November.
“His smile and his laughter and the fact he used to make everyone joke. Excuse me. He used to love to make everybody laugh and joke so it was definitely that (I miss the most). His smile and fun loving attitude,” Moorhouse said.
“(Saviano) must have taken over 120-125 photos.”
However, not every smile Saviano captures is now only found in old photos.
Sometimes she gets to recreate them with Western New York families like Trina Ostrander’s.
“I’ve always wanted family pictures because I never know when (Anthony’s) last day will be,” Ostrander said. “To take him somewhere was just way too much.”
Her son Anthony Stinson was healthy up until he turned two.
“He just started acting differently and went into a really long seizure and this is the result,” Ostrander said.
Nineteen years later, an undiagnosed neurodegenerative disease means Stinson needs around the clock care, but Ostrander can keep documenting all of her family’s moments together.
“Priceless. It’s all priceless,” Ostrander said.
That even includes the unexpected ones, like Stinson’s 21st birthday, with some of his former and current nurses by his side.
“I don’t know that I could find a photographer to come and just have the heart that (Saviano) does or have the patience, the empathy, the love, everything,” Ostrander said.
Saviano has now done three photo shoots with Stinson, and with Nathan Pitillo.
“You almost become part of the family when you get to see them grow up,” Saviano said.
For example, now Saviano is able to see Nathan Pitillo is no longer the youngest hospice patient in Buffalo.
Through all the physical and learning therapies, the 3-year-old continues to get stronger.
“He’s exceeded every expectation that he’s ever been told he wouldn’t exceed,” Becky Pitillo said.
“He’s a tough guy,” Greg Pitillo said.
The Pitillo’s can now look back on a time most parents would want to forget.
“We were just be able to be in the moment and take pictures and have a memory. Be a family. Be a family,” they said.
And remember with a little guidance, it was a photographer who made them feel whole.