Emily Cahill

Timaru's tiny triumph

Emily Cahill is our poster child in Timaru for the 2019 Heart Kids Awareness Week.  The gorgeous 1-year-old spent almost 80 per cent of her first six months of life in hospital and had three open heart surgeries. Her mum Kirsty Wooffindin, says it was all been worth it "to give her the best start in life.

Emily was born with a condition called Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome, with five heart defects that required three separate surgeries: One in her first week, one at five-six months old and one at three or four years.  She is one of 12 babies born with a congenital heart defect every week in New Zealand. 

Emily's condition was picked up during Wooffindin's 20-week scan so preparations began early with Woofindin and her partner, TJ Cahill, travelling up to Auckland where Emily was born and stable enough to go into surgery.  "She had her first surgery when she was 48 hours old," Wooffindin said. "Her heart was the size of a walnut."  What was meant to be a three week hospital recovery period turned to six as Emily picked up an infection, but once she began to feed better the family were allowed to take her home. "We were home for about six weeks when we picked up a change in her echo and changes in her weight and her oxygen levels from the daily monitoring that we had to do and we got a phone call that said we had to be at Starship the next day. Within two weeks she'd had a CT scan and another [additional] surgery because she wasn't big enough, she wasn't heavy enough or old enough, to have the planned surgery."

 Emily's recovery took longer this time as her oxygen levels kept dropping so the family remained at Auckland's Starship Hospital for three months until she was strong enough and heavy enough to handle the second planned surgery.

Throughout the whole process the family have been supported by Heart Kids South Canterbury. As soon as the family found out about Emily's condition, before she was even born, Heart Kids put them in contact with a South Canterbury family whose child had survived similar procedures. "It was so good to talk to someone who could answer the questions that nobody else could," Wooffindin said. "I didn't feel quite so alone, you don't really know what's going to happen, but to know that an 11-year-old had had those surgeries and was doing well was reassuring."

Heart Kids has also provided toiletries, care packages and vouchers for the trips to Auckland and delivered baking and gifts once the family were home.

"Probably one of the best things is that they contributed money towards flights for our then two year-old son Lachie to come fly up to stay with us and see us. Lachie could make Emily laugh in a way nobody else could and the cuddles were priceless."