The Ravnaas's Story in Minnessota and North Dakota

I am not sure where to begin, but maybe I will start off by saying photographing the Ravnaas family was an overwhelming honor.  It is complicated.  So I will let Sara tell you in her own words...

Our story is a long but beautiful one. Our daughter was diagnosed at 18 weeks gestation with a very serious heart defect. After a fairly easy pregnancy, she was born full term in Minneapolis since North Dakota does not have the resources to care for kiddos with hearts so broken like our Elsa’s heart. After a few hours, we were told that not only did she have the one heart defect, but 4 more as well. Her best hope of survival was a series of 3 open heart surgeries to correct the flow and make her heart work more efficiently. These repairs are not a fix, but rather a bandaid to bridge the time before she would be listed for a heart transplant.

Elsa’s situation became more complicated about 2 years ago (she was 5 months old at the time) and we have not been able to get her back home to North Dakota ever since. She has been in our home for a total of 6 weeks in her 2.5 yrs of life. She has spent the majority of her life in a hospital and now with the help of home care nurses, she is able to be in a home setting that we provide for her in Minneapolis. We have been living separately now since March 2013.

My husband runs the show back in central North Dakota, and I run the show with Elsa in Minneapolis. We live on a rural cattle and small grains farm and our boys love the school and their friends. We have always wanted to be sure that they were getting their needs met as well in all of this craziness so we decided that giving them the stability of home and school was best for them long term. I have not been to our home since Jan 2014 when I went for a 3 day visit. Elsa is not able to travel back until she gets a clearance from her doctors which will be a minimum of another year if all goes well.

When Sara heard I would be passing through her area she asked if I could photograph her, Elsa and her youngest son (that would be spending the summer with her) at their apartment in Minneapolis and then travel 460 miles to central North Dakota to photograph her husband and two other boys.  Sara misses home.  She misses seeing her boys off to school in the mornings and hearing their stories when they come home.  She has not seen the treehouse they built in the backyard or the improvements her husband has made to the property.  She doesn't know what new lego creations are displayed on the boys' dressers or whether they are keeping their sock drawers tidy. Any visits the boys are able to make to Minneapolis are crammed into the occasional long weekend -- and even then, only if everyone is healthy enough for Elsa's weak immune system.  It is crazy.  But they are making it work.

So, within 24 hours I was able to photograph them all.  Two homes.  Two stories.  One family.  

In Sara's words...

Two family stories meshed into one over the distance.

Elsa is currently in the hospital in Michigan for a new surgery.  She has been experiencing some complications recovering from the surgery.    You can visit her CaringBridge page here.