Photo Series Captures the Pains and Triumphs of Kids With Heart Conditions
Photographer SheRae Hunter specializes in portraits of babies, but for her latest photo series, she put the focus on children with congenital heart defects (CHD). Hunter met the children and their parents two years ago at a fundraising event in Winchester, Virginia. She later connected with them on Facebook, and after following their daily lives on social media, she wanted to make a difference for the families.
Her mission is to help increase awareness for CHD, and with her powerful images, give a voice to the families who might not be able to speak out. “I can try to see these children how their parents see them — fragile and scarred, but brave and mighty. Broken, but perfect,” Hunter wrote on her website. “I can listen and not judge, not offer advice, or extend pity, but just listen.”
Children with CHD have abnormally structured hearts and/or enlarged vessels, and the condition ranges from moderate to life-threatening, according to the Children’s Heart Foundation. Most of the children in Hunter’s photos have had multiple open-heart surgeries, and their chest scars are proudly on display.
Jodi Lemacks, National Program Director for Mended Little Hearts, praised Hunter for her work. “It is so important for kids to see other kids like themselves too,” Lemacks told The Mighty. “They often feel different and like no one understands. Seeing others makes CHD feel more ‘normal.’ We often feel like their lives are filled with so many challenges, medical challenges and everyday issues, and to see them having fun makes us feel hopeful — like we can let go of the CHD for a while and just be everyday people.”
Hunter said the highlight of the project was simply working with the the children, and the harder part came when she opened the notebook filled with the interview responses for the parents. “Every single handwritten interview moved me to tears,” she told The Mighty. “I couldn’t even read through them all at once.”
“Most CHD kids do not look sick, but their scars are very real,” a spokesperson for the Children’s Heart Foundation told The Mighty. “CHDs are the most common birth defect with 40,000 babies born each year. Despite these numbers, CHDs are not well known. Because of this, spreading CHD awareness and funding research are so very important.”
Hunter encourages others to share the images, and to use the #zipperstrong hashtag on social media to keep the conversation going. “This project is my humble and sincere attempt not only to understand the world of these families and children, but to give you a glimpse into their world, that you might seek to understand as well,” she added on her website.
All images courtesy of SheRae Hunter / SL Hunter Photography