Alabama is not known for its winter weather. But on the night of Feb. 12, about 5 inches of snow fell on Birmingham. AJ Fennell, a third year dental student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, braved the icy roads to pick up his friends from a high rise building in downtown Birmingham. They planned to go sledding at a local park.
He snapped a photo of the snow from his friend’s apartment with his iPhone. AJ tweeted this picture in hopes that James Spann, a local weatherman-turned-celebrity, would retweet the picture. After the tweet, AJ’s phone died, and he never would have predicted what happened next.
James Spann did retweet the picture, which quickly went viral. “I was getting contacted at first about using the picture to paint it, using it to promote Birmingham tourism and others wanting to frame it,” AJ remembers. “And I thought, ‘Seriously? You want to do that with a picture from my iPhone?’ I thought it was pretty cool. When people started offering me money, my fiancé suggested giving it all to Dr. Wikle. I said, ‘That’s perfect!’”
Because of the unexpected snow, UAB students had to postpone several events for “Wikle Week,” a week-long fundraiser for Dr. Ned Wikle, a UAB endodontics resident. Over winter break, Dr. Wikle was diagnosed with lung cancer, and in January his wife gave birth to their third child. Ask any UAB student and they’ll tell you that Dr. Wikle is as kind and generous as they come.
AJ decided to dedicate his 15 minutes of fame to the cause. AJ created a Fundly campaign, and anyone who donates to the fund for Dr. Wikle receives a high quality file of the image. “I thought $1,000 would be a good goal,” AJ says. In just 24 hours, he had surpassed that goal. Since the fundraising page was created, it has been shared on Facebook hundreds of times and was featured on AL.com. AJ was interviewed on the local news and even got to meet James Spann. At the time of this post, the photo has raised more than $29,000 and counting.
AJ is shocked at the photo’s impact. “I’m so happy it all can be used in such a great way to help out Dr. Wikle. It’s so silly that I took that picture with my iPhone and people want to give me money. What’s not silly is that people will come together in a time of need. I’m overwhelmed by the response to the cause.”
~Megan Guthman, Alabama ’14, 2013-14 contributing editor