Cape Town - They first met in Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital’s neonatal ward, but it was when their children - born two days apart - were recovering from a heart surgery that they truly connected.
Monique Kemp and Natasha Miller both found out about their children’s illnesses while conducting foetal scans in their second trimester.
They both carried full term, but it was only minutes after they delivered that they were informed about the severity of their children’s conditions.
Kemp’s son, Daniel, was diagnosed with interrupted aortic heart, aventrical septal defect and Hirschsprung’s disease, and Natasha’s daughter, Amy, was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome.
Amy now needs a heart transplant, and Daniel’s mom is doing what she can to drum up support.
The two children were born two days apart in September 2010. The Millers live in Durban and the Kemps in Strandfontein.
Amy and Daniel were born with congenital heart defects.
Kemp said: “When the doctor first told me that my son’s heart was not developing well, I felt helpless. I mean you are ignorant because you have never heard about these things before, yet they happen daily.”
Kemp and Miller had often come across each other in the neonatal ward.
But it wasn’t until their children were taken into surgery just a few days old, and placed in opposite beds, that the two mothers connected.
“There were days that I would be running to hospital because Amy was down and Natasha would do the same for me.”
Amy was six days old when she underwent her first surgery. Daniel was eight days old when he had his first operation.
Since then, Amy has had two other surgeries and is now in need of a heart transplant.
Daniel has had five surgeries, but has recovered well.
Recalling the first year of her child’s life, Kemp said heart babies were “miracles in motion”.
“I remember Daniel was four months old when he had a problem. Amy and her parents had just flown in a day before because she was going to be admitted. Daniel started bleeding internally and was turning blue. I called the hospital and they told me to bring him in.”
Daniel and Amy were put in the same ward and again slept opposite each other.
“When they moved Daniel to a completely new room he started battling, but when they moved him back with Amy somehow he started getting stronger… they seemingly shared a connection.”
The mothers have kept in contact and updated each other on their children’s progress.
Kemp went on to start a support group for mothers with children suffering from the disease.
“Heart for Hope is here to educate and support. We are also here to promote heart donations. Amy is one of us.”
Kemp often visits the neonatal ward to support other parents.
She said since Amy’s relapse three weeks ago, the organisation was praying for a donor.
“The Millers are close to my heart. Amy is Daniel’s age. I mean our children were practically born together.”
Amy’s mother said the past few years have been a roller-coaster of emotions.
“Sometimes you feel you can handle what the doctors are giving you; sometimes you feel like rolling in a corner and crying.”
Amy is receiving heart medication until a donor is found. She takes four types of medication daily.
Miller said: “Amy knows and understands that she has a special heart and at times she needs to relax.
“Right now we are enjoying every minute we have with her.”
Amy’s family posted a video on YouTube appealing to the public for help.
“It’s difficult for a parent to ask another parent for her child’s heart. For Amy to live it means another family is in tragedy; but we ask that if your child has passed let his/her death not be in vain.Your child can help save another’s life.”
Liza Welsh from Heart Kids South Africa said heart disease was more common than Down’s syndrome and autism.
She said that out of up to 30 cases of heart disease, 12 were detected early. “Severe CHD can be detected with foetal scans during pregnancy,” Welsh said.