Heart surgery gives 9-year-old Tzaneen girl new lease on life

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Caroline Smit and her parents.
Caroline Smit and her parents.
  • A nine-year-old girl's life has been saved after it was discovered she was living with a large hole in her heart.
  • Little Caroline Smit passed out late last year, leading to doctors diagnosing her with atrial septal defect secundum.
  • She has now recovered after a team of specialist doctors operated on her.
  • GOOD NEWS DAY IS BACK! News24 celebrates the people restoring pride in our country. Read their stories here

A nine-year-old girl, with dreams of becoming a veterinarian, has been given a new lease on life after a crucial operation to fix a hole in her heart.

Little Caroline Smit suddenly fainted in November 2022, leading doctors to discover she was living with a large hole in her heart.

"We had no idea Caroline had a heart condition until then, and for my wife and I, it was the start of a long and painful journey when the tests showed she needed a very urgent heart operation - I could never wish this on anyone else," said her father, Petrus.

Thanks to a life-saving procedure through the Netcare Foundation with specialists from the Maboneng Heart and Lung Institute, Caroline was recently able to undergo the intricate procedure at the advanced paediatric cardiothoracic unit at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital.

The surgery corrected her heart defect, which was placing a heavy strain on the left side of her heart, risking permanent damage.

Cardiothoracic surgeon and co-founder of the Maboneng Heart and Lung Institute, Dr Erich Schürmann, who led the medical team that gave their expertise pro bono to assist Caroline, said she had a history of tiredness and headaches.

"She was referred to us from the public sector after receiving treatment when she suddenly lost consciousness at the end of last year.

"The little girl from Tzaneen had been diagnosed with atrial septal defect [ASD] secundum, meaning there was a large hole in her heart between the upper two chambers, forcing more blood into the right side, which was enlarging under the pressure.

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"Over time, this can be severely damaging to the growing child's health and surgery was needed as soon as possible to give her the best chance of living a healthy, active life," he added.

The specialised ASD closure procedure to repair Caroline's heart defect was performed by cardiothoracic surgeons Schürmann and Dr Martin Myburgh, also from the Maboneng Heart and Lung Institute.

Paediatric cardiologist Dr Jane Pilusa, who practises at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital, anaesthetist Dr Krishnee Naidoo and cardiac perfusionist Mogotsi Mophosho were also part of the surgery.

Caroline recovered rapidly after her operation and was discharged from the hospital a mere three days later.

Her dad said he felt like "a mountain had been lifted from our shoulders".

"Our little angel is already feeling better, and it is really something to see the difference in her eyes and in her energy levels since the operation. She is running around and playing like a normal kid.

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"My wife, Lucille, and I can never thank the foundation, as well as the doctors and nurses enough for all they have done for our daughter in making this surgery possible. We are also very grateful for the emotional support of our family and friends."

Describing his daughter, as a caring child, Petrus said: 

She is a young lady who loves nature and animals, especially our two dogs at home. It is such a huge relief for our family that our daughter's heart is now working as it should.

The general manager of emergency, trauma, transplant and corporate social investment at Netcare and trustee of the Netcare Foundation, Mande Toubkin, said there was an overwhelming need for these specialised heart operations, which were highly resource intensive.

"Working together with specialists and non-profit organisations like the Maboneng Foundation, which coordinates funding for surgeries, the private sector can help to secure the futures of children like Caroline, who urgently require heart operations.

"Whether a donation to a worthy cause such as this is large or modest, there are few initiatives more rewarding than making a difference in a child's life.

"We wish Caroline everything of the best for her future, and hope she realises her dream of working with animals when she grows up," added Toubkin.

For more information about the Maboneng Foundation, which coordinates sponsorship of the procedures, or to donate, please visit their website.

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