OUR HERO KIDS
POPPY Smith is bouncing towards Christmas, celebrating a win in a battle that nearly cost her life.
The bubbly four-year-old is one of Victoria’s “zipper” kids, the tots who have had heart surgery and wear their scars with pride.
She will one day need a heart transplant, but for now is celebrating a battle won in 2016.
Poppy joins Milly Johnston, 3, William Davies, 2, and William Bayliss, 11 months, as the Sunday Herald Sun’s tiniest heroes of the year.
The scars along their chests are the only obvious clues to their tough starts in life. Poppy has a simple explanation for anyone wanting to know why she has a special scar: “I am a heart kid — you are not.”
All four have undergone major heart surgery at the Royal Children’s Hospital this year. But, thanks to incredible progress over 20 years, this complex surgery has become almost routine at Melbourne’s world-leading paediatric hospital.
“What used to be very complicated and at the very top end of what we could do 20 years ago now becomes quite common,” said Associate Professor Christian Brizard, director of the RCH cardiac surgery unit. “The length of stay in the hospital was three weeks (back then); now it’s about 10 days or much less.”
Professor Brizard said child cardiac patients were often “quite remarkable”.
“What’s striking is that they have very little fear,” he said.
Poppy, Milly, William and William are among the one in every 100 Australian children with a heart defect.
Most can be treated — but not cured — with medicine or surgery. However, heart disease remains the biggest killer of kids in their first year.
Tracy Stanley, support manager for charity HeartKids, said she was constantly inspired by the “courage, strength and tenacity of these kids”.
However, she added, child heart disease was widely misunderstood, despite being the most common birth defect in Australia. “These children are never actually ‘fixed’. They are living with a chronic condition for the rest of their lives,” she said.
Ebony Mallinson and Kyle Johnston with Milly.