When Amber Saxon pulls into the hospitals she visits each month in Orlando and Gainesville, she also travels back in time.
Back to when her daughter Bryton was being treated for cancer, first at Nemours Children’s Hospital, and later at Shands in Gainesville. Back when she and her baby girl were working together on the plan to create Bryton Up Buttercup – a small movement to paint smiles across the faces of kids in hospital treatment suites across Central and North Florida.
“We talked about it all the time,” said Amber. “And so, when I was ready, I knew I had to do this.”
This is driving hundreds of miles each month from her Indian Harbour Beach home to Orlando to visit both Nemours and Florida Hospital for Children one day, and to Gainesville to visit Shands on others to paint butterflies, princesses and pirates, sports logos and sea creatures on the faces, arms and legs of the patients alternating between radiation and recovery.
Welcomed like family by hospital staff, Saxon is accompanied by her daughter Taylor Kelley, a 20-year old former West Shore Jr./Sr. High grad studying pre-med at the University of Florida. When possible, Taylor schedules work and study assignments around mom’s paint plans so they can spend time together.
Black makeup cases wheeling alongside them, the mother/daughter duo make their way across the shiny bright floors at Florida Hospital for Children to the temporary room of Karthikeya Anga, an 8 year -old boy who soon will head home after radiation. His hair is dandelion-fuzzy and spread across the caramel skin of his head. On his bed, a toy light saber awaits play and a computer with music from his favorite movie – Star Wars: The Awakening – is playing. His mom watches from a nearby boxy chair.
Originally from India, “Kar” requests to be painted as a Star Wars Temple Guard and sits perfectly still for the few minutes it takes Amber to paint the cream and yellow colors onto his small round face.
“You’re being so still,” Amber compliments. “I am meditating,” he replies, his lips stretching into a toothy grin.
Sometimes, it’s all a bit much and Amber has to take a breather. But, in the end it’s worth every moment. “I’m just trying to do what I know Bryton would be doing if she were still here with us,” she said.
Amber’s trips are funded through “very generous donations” that were made in Bryton’s name when she lost her battle in 2016. The organization recently received non-profit designation from the IRS which will allow for more structured fundraising to help push the dream further.
“I’d like to help open other Bryton Up Buttercup chapters, wherever anyone wants to open one,” she said.