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A fundraiser with a lot of heart

Heart Kids family support worker Annie Cunningham and parent Bex Garthwaite hold a sign featuring four Wairarapa heart kids. PHOTO/ELI HLL

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For Wairarapa mums Bex Garthwaite and Rebecca Thurston Heart Kids national awareness week, which begins today, is personal.

Both are mums of kids who have received heart surgery and both will be “baking up a storm” in preparation for the Heart Kids bake sale and fundraiser outside of Countdown Masterton on Friday.

Garthwaite’s daughter Claudia, now five, was born in Starship Hospital with a condition that affected a valve in her heart.

“When she was due to be born my husband and I packed up our house and left with our three-month son. We caught a plane up to Auckland not knowing when we’d be back.

“Claudia was due the week before Christmas and we hadn’t thought about buying presents for our son – we hadn’t done anything because there was so much uncertainty.”

It was then, Garthwaite said, that Heart Kids made the family’s rocky time a little smoother.

“Heart Kids brought us food, gave me Christmas presents for our son.

“When we came home from Auckland, we had visits from a Heart Kids family support worker, they just cared.

“They bought vouchers too, airfares for our son. It’s the little things that you don’t think about unless you’re actually in that situation.

In March this year Claudia had her first heart surgery and the family stayed up in Auckland for two weeks.

Just over a month after her surgery, Claudia’s fairly active.

“You’d be amazed at how quick the recovery has been,” Garthwaite said, “If you saw her running around, you’d have no idea that she’d had heart surgery.”

Fellow Heart Kids mum Rebecca Thurston agrees.

Her daughter Olivia had open-heart surgery two weeks after her first birthday, a two-hour procedure that stretched to 13. Now nine, she has amazed Thurston.

“She just came ninth in her school cross-country — which she was upset about because last year she came fourth.

“She plays netball, she does swimming, that’s what people have to realise. Often they see a heart child and they think about their limitations when they don’t have to.”

Thurston said Heart Kids are great at linking parents and siblings of kids with heart conditions.

“Only parents who have sons and daughters like yours can understand. It can be quite isolating otherwise.”

Olivia still needs to have another procedure in the future which was originally meant to be open heart, but Thurston said they may be able to avoid it as technology is improving.

Family support worker Annie Cunningham said Heart Kids was about support.

“For families within Wairarapa, we’ll help out with things like petrol and meals vouchers. We’ll pay for airfares for siblings, counselling, and work with Work and Income and Housing NZ to ensure they’re in healthy homes.”

Wairarapa parents and volunteers are holding a fundraiser for Heart Kids New Zealand from 9am to 5pm on Friday outside Countdown Masterton.

Baking will be for sale and donation buckets readily available.

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