Nine-year-old Caroline Smit from Tzaneen in Limpopo almost lost her life when it came to light in November last year that she had a massive hole in her heart.
A life-changing heart operation, which moreover cost her parents nothing, now enables her to one day live out her dream of becoming a veterinarian.
Petrus, Caroline’s father, says she suddenly fainted last year, which led to a variety of tests being carried out on her. She has a history of fatigue and headaches, but the cause was never determined.
“Up until that point, we had no idea that Caroline had a heart condition,” says Petrus.
“This was the beginning of a long and painful process of tests which then finally showed that she urgently needed a heart operation. The whole process is something I would never wish on anyone else.”
Dr. Erich Schürmann says Caroline was initially treated at a public hospital, but her family was forced to get specialized treatment. Schürmann is the co-founder of the Maboneng Heart and Lung Institute and was able to treat Caroline for free with the help of the Netcare Foundation.
“Little Caroline was diagnosed with atrial septal defect (ASD) secundum, which means she has a large hole in her heart between the upper two heart chambers. As a result, more blood is forced into the right side of the heart, which enlarges it and puts enormous pressure on the heart,” says Schürmann.
“Over time, the condition can seriously damage a growing child, so the only choice was to operate to give her the best possible chance of a healthy and active life.”
A group of specialists, led by Schürmann, recently performed the complicated procedure at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital’s pediatric unit on Caroline to correct her congenital heart defect.
Caroline recovered quickly after the operation and was able to be discharged from the hospital a mere three days later.
“It feels like a mountain is off our shoulders,” says Petrus.
“Our little angel is feeling so much better and it’s remarkable to see the difference in her energy levels. She runs around and plays now like a normal child should.”
Petrus says that he and his wife, Lucille, are moved when they think of all the help that has been given to them and Caroline during this time. From the doctors involved to family, friends and both of their employers.
“Caroline is a caring child who has always loved nature and animals, so it is a great relief for our family that our daughter’s heart is now working as it should.”
Mande Toubkin, manager of emergencies, trauma, transplants and corporate social investments at Netcare, says there is a great need for this type of specialized heart surgery. However, because these types of operations require so many resources, they are not readily available to Jan Alleman.
“By working with specialists and non-profit organisations, such as the Maboneng Foundation which coordinates funding for the operations, the private sector can help improve the future of children like Caroline, who urgently need heart surgery,” says Toubkin.
“There are few initiatives that are more rewarding than making a difference to a child’s life, so we wish Caroline all the best for her future and hope she realizes her dream of working with animals when she is older.”
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