Raising funds wholeheartedly
Staff at Greenlane Hospital once called her the "Swiss cheese girl."
Samara McKenzie was born with ventricular septal defect and had more than 12 holes in her heart.
Now she's 12 and fundraising for Heart Kids Awareness Month. The campaign supports Heart Kids NZ, the charity that helped her family through the tough times.
Samara spent three days in early August collecting donations with her friends outside her parents' grocery store Alberton Fine Foods Four Square in Mt Albert. A donation bucket will also be in the store until the end of the month.
"Heart Kids NZ helped me a lot when I was little," Samara said. "We'd donated as a family before but never fundraised ourselves."
Samara was a healthy eight pounds at birth but soon showed signs of being unwell. Her parents Logan and Nicola McKenzie were concerned she wasn't putting on weight after three weeks and took her to hospital.
Hearing the diagnosis was really hard, Logan McKenzie said.
"We were just devastated because we didn't know there was a recovery procedure. We thought it was all over.
"But once we got into the unit and talked to the surgeon and the registrar, we knew there was hope."
Samara had open heart surgery when she was three months old at Greenlane Hospital's Paediatric Cardiac Unit and underwent the same procedure again at 14 months. She nearly died on the operating table and had to be put on a bypass machine twice.
Even then, her recovery wasn't straightforward. Complications resulting from the operation meant both her lungs collapsed and she had to be rushed back into surgery.
Samara finds it all a little hard to comprehend.
"When I first heard about it I was pretty shocked. I'm aware of what happened more now because I can understand it better."
Her classmates notice her scar and often have questions about it, not that she minds. It just means she's got stories to tell.
Her heart will never be completely fixed but it's manageable, her mother said. She gets minor chest pains, becomes tired more easily than other kids and can't eat a lot at once, but it doesn't hold the keen swimmer back.
Heart Kids NZ organised accommodation for the family near Greenlane Hospital during the operations and helped out with food parcels.
"If she needed something she got it. There was no waiting around," her father said.
Go to heartnz.org.nz for more information.
Auckland City Harbour News