When this image was taken, the sisters that he had repeatedly asked the Diocese to send to Kalaupapa to help in the care of the patients, had just arrived. As Mother Marianne had said to Damien that, "It took them one month to travel by boat from Syracuse, New York, to Honolulu. From Honolulu, it took 5 years for them to get to Kalaupapa" due to the reluctance of the Diocese. In less than two weeks of their arrival, Damien died on April 15, 1889. He died at the shortly before Easter week. He had hoped to be with his Lord by Easter.
It was this photo of Father Damien that went around the world after he died that became the agent of change that Damien had so hoped for. It was as though in his death, he became the 'poster child' for leprosy. It raised public awareness to such a degree that it finally made a difference for the people of Kalaupapa.