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Dad's heartbreaking Internet plea spurs strangers

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(AP Photo/Steffel Family). This undated photo provided by Nathan and Emily Steffel shows their infant daughter, Sonya. (AP Photo/Steffel Family). This undated photo provided by Nathan and Emily Steffel shows their infant daughter, Sonya.
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By JOHN SEEWER
Associated Press

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - Just days after his infant daughter's death, Nathen Steffel asked strangers on the Internet for only one thing: He and his wife wanted a photo of their daughter without the breathing tubes and tape that masked her little face.

The response has been overwhelming.

Hundreds of photos, sketches and paintings have poured into the family's northwestern Ohio home and their inbox.

"I'm getting messages in languages from all over the world," Steffel said Wednesday. "It's more than I can count."

His daughter, Sophia, died last Thursday at a Cincinnati hospital from complications of a tumor in her liver, six weeks after she was born in Columbus. She was awaiting a transplant when she died.

Her father posted a message on Reddit asking if anyone could use their photo of Sophia in the hospital and remove the tubes attached to her face and wrist. "Since she was in the hospital her whole life we never were able to get a photo without all her tubes," he wrote.

"It started because I just wanted one picture," said Steffel, who lives in the village of Kalida with his wife, Emily, and their two sons.

He initially was not sure about posting the request online because he was worried someone might respond rudely. "I guess the best has outweighed the negative," he said.

So far, they have received thousands of messages expressing support and hundreds of photos. Someone else is sending a woven blanket with Sophia's picture.

David Valdez, who has been painting portraits for several years, made a digital painting of Sophia within a few hours of seeing her father's message.

"I was having a bad day when I saw this guy asking for a photo. I just started painting," said Valdez, a college student from New Braunfels, Texas. "It brought me some sort of sense of relief to help someone out."

Jillian Johnston, an illustrator from Mountain View, California, said she felt pulled to create her own image of Sophia. She posted it online and then woke up the next morning to a flood of compliments and several requests from other parents who lost their children in similar situations.

"I have at least a dozen more babies to paint," she said. "There are so many beautiful babies. It's heartbreaking."

Steffel said his family now has more memories of their daughter than they could have imagined, he said.

"It's kept me and my wife occupied reading all these messages," Steffel said. "Keeping our minds off things."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.