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Olivia and her rabbit, Maggie, undergo open heart surgery

Olivia. It means bringer of peace. “She is our miracle baby,” shares Renate, who together with her husband, Raymond, discovered that their baby was born with a heart murmur when she was 3 days old. “It was traumatic finding out that your miracle has a heart problem…. We did a sonar at 6 days old and it was confirmed that she had an ASD and a VSD”. The closure of Olivia’s ASD was a glimmer of hope for the Hattingh family, “but unfortunately the VSD did not cooperate. “We went for a check-up every six months – only missing one during Covid, which we made up as soon as possible.” Olivia’s VSD wasn’t getting any smaller, but the Hattinghs were told that it was nothing to worry about; that it may still close on its own and that everything else was going well. It wasn’t until December 2022, when Olivia was 4 years old, that Renate noticed that her baby girl was more tired than usual, “she would play and run with her cousins and have to stop and catch her breath every couple of steps”. In the January that followed, Olivia began to experience nose bleeds. “We called our cardiologist to try and move our check-up appointment earlier. She told us that it was just sinus; that we should take her to our GP”. That May, Renate and Raymond’s lingering concern worsened as they observed their friendly, spontaneous and energetic daughter constantly irritable and “not her self”. “We decided to take her to her paediatrician, who, within 5 minutes of seeing her, told us that something is not right – that she needs to see a cardiologist”. The Hattingh family were referred to a new cardiologist in Pretoria. “He was a real miracle worker and did his best to comfort us. He explained to us that the VSD was sucking in the aortic valve, which was causing the left side of Olivia’s heart to enlarge and that she would need an op to get it fixed,” shares Renate. The VSD was once again confirmed to not be big, but causing problems. Olivia was referred to the Maboneng Heart and Lung Institute and scheduled for an open heart surgery on 15 June 2023. “Liesl was an angel right from the beginning to the end,” says Renate, “our surgery was moved up a day due to an emergency, which we were notified of while I was shopping on the 13th, and Liesl even changed our booking at the guest house so we could focus on getting everything ready at home to come through a day earlier. She is so awesome! That same evening, the Hattinghs moved into Netcare Sunninghill Hospital. “During her pre-op tests, [paediatric cardiologist], Dr Meares, discovered that her VSD was actually very big, and had seemed small because her aortic valve was blocking it”. Four and a half years after her birth, the Hattinghs had just learnt that their miracle baby had a “major VSD” and it had caused more damage than originally thought. The family met with Dr Schürmann for a pre-op consultation. “He explained what they were going to do and really calmed us down,” shares Renate, who stayed with Olivia in theatre until she fell asleep. “Maggie, Olivia’s toy rabbit, was in her arms when she fell asleep. “We also met with a social worker, Mrs Podges, who stayed with us the whole time and during Olivia’s op, took us to CTICU, showed us which bed would be Olivia’s and introduced us to Mr Jan, who was Olivia’s CTICU nurse. As soon as Olivia’s surgery had finished, Mrs Podges called us. We ran so fast we were actually there before Dr Schürmann”. Post-surgery, Dr Schürmann informed the Hattinghs that Olivia’s damage was extensive and that she “should have had the op two years ago,” Renate shares with tears that she cannot hold back. Olivia’s VSD, was however, finally closed but her aortic valve was confirmed to still be leaking. “She may need it replaced one day, but for now we are hoping for a miracle”. In CTICU, Oliva was joined by her rabbit, Maggie, who had also undergone the exact same surgery and was bandaged in all the same places that Oliva was sore. “The bandages are still not allowed to come off,” chuckles Renate, “I’m going to have to start handwashing Maggie around her bandages. Olivia tells me that her bandages keep her healthy. “She did develop a lung infection in CTICU, which was difficult because she needed to cough but it was sore to cough”. Olivia has also been back in hospital three times since her surgery due to her “immune system being a bit weak at the moment, and she also has asthma”. Looking back, Renate is grateful that they were told to come a day early – “we would have been so stressed just sitting around and waiting. The Little Hearts Initiative was also amazing. It helps to talk to parents who have been through something similar. They helped us if we wanted to know anything and we are still in contact with them. “We really believe that God had a plan with our original cardiologist not being willing to see us earlier. He knew that other doctors were necessary. “It has only been three months, but she is already more energetic and back to herself. She has even started going back to school a couple days a week. We are still learning about the experiences she had in hospital… like yesterday [28 September], she had a spring day picnic and school, and when we were in the cookie isle trying to choose cookies, she said she wants the rainbow cookies, cause they are the ones Mr Jan gave her. She calls them Mr Jan cookies. She also calls Dr Naidoo [her anaethetist] the mooi tannie. “It was the most difficult thing to place our child in somebody else’s hands. It was the worst thing ever to see her [post op] just lying there with a nappy, even though she is potty trained. When she opened her eyes on day four in CTICU and smiled, that is when we realised everything is going to be okay,” shares Renate. “The Sunninghill staff really try to make a difficult situation as easy as possible for the parents. We have a bunch of gratitude for everything that everyone did for our little girl. The CTICU nursing staff told us that Olivia would smile at them when they come in [to the unit]. “Our friends and family were also amazing to us. They were there for every visiting hour, even though they couldn’t directly see her. Olivia’s godmother visited her and my parents sat with us while we waited for her op to be done. Everyone special to us was so supportive and we are so thankful. “It hasn’t been easy. The first week of being home, she had terrible nightmares. I think her age is difficult, because she is not old enough to understand exactly what is happening, but she is old enough to understand that something is not right. All three of us went through everything together”. “She is our ray of sunlight; our bringer of peace”.


Pictures shared with permission.


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