Sunday Herald Sun - - Front Page - evonne.mad­den@news.com.au heartkids.org.au EVONNE MAD­DEN AND LU­CIE VAN DEN BERG

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.

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