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The emotional story behind an Alabama family’s viral photo

The viral photo of Kolbie Gregware and his grandfather Allan Halstead (Photo: Sunshine Moody Photography)
The viral photo of Kolbie Gregware and his grandfather Allan Halstead (Photo: Sunshine Moody Photography)

PHENIX CITY, Ala. – An emotional image of a grandfather and his infant grandson that is taking the internet by storm was photographed right here in Alabama.

Allan Halstead and his grandson Kolbie Gregware share a special bond. Though one of them is 67 and the other is less than a year old, they’ve both had open-heart surgeries. Kolbie was born with Down syndrome and had issues with his heart, lungs, and kidneys. He spent the first few months of his life in and out of the NICU before having his first open-heart surgery at 4 months old.

Halstead, a Vietnam veteran, has had two open-heart surgeries as well as a whole host of heart-related complications. Right now his heart is operating at 10 percent and has to take medication to help it maintain that level. Brandy Gregware, Halstead’s daughter and Kolbie’s mother, knows her father is on “borrowed time.”

Once Kolbie was healthy enough to leave the hospital, Gregware knew that she needed to get photos of her sons with her father before time ran out. Luckily, Phenix City-based photographer Sunshine Moody heard about Kolbie’s story and offered to take the photos for free. Kolbie was in the same NICU unit as Moody’s daughter had been, so she already empathized with the Gregwares.

The photos Moody took highlight the bond that Kolbie and his grandfather share.

“Kolbie is very bonded with me, but my dad, he just sits there and stares at him for hours like he’s God,” Gregware said.

The scars Kolbie and Halstead share from their surgeries – their “matching zippers” – are the focus of one of Moody’s photos that has gone viral. Of all the photos she took, this one jumped out to Moody as she started to edit the pictures. “I pulled out my computer and scrolled through and it immediately caught my eye. It was the first one I edited. And I spent over an hour on it alone,” she said.

“I’ll admit I was scared to be trusted with such a powerful photo.”

The photo has been shared all over the internet, including AOL, ABC News, Inside Edition, Women’s Day Magazine, and even British-based sites like The Daily Mail and Mirror. Ashton Kutcher even shared the photo on his Facebook page. The image has captured the hearts of people worldwide, which is pretty mind-blowing for Moody.

“I’m a really, really small town photographer… I do this as more of a hobby than a career,” she said.

For Gregware, the response to the photo has been an inspiration.

“I have received tons of messages from people saying it has given them hope,” she said. “They can proudly wear their scars. God gave you an obstacle so show it, and show it proud.”

Kolbie, who will turn one year old this summer, has been stable and home from the hospital for 30 days. Halstead has “good and bad days,” but remains in high spirits. Gregware knows that their remaining time together is short, but Moody’s photos will allow their bond to continue to inspire people all over the world.

“They’re both walking miracles. They just have a bond that is unbelievable and I wanted to share that for people so they could see that miracles happen — they happen every day and I wanted to make sure people know they can happen.”