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Former All Black backs fundraising campaign

18 May 2006

Former All Black backs fundraising campaign

“Congratulations, you have a healthy baby” is what every parent wants to hear. “Congratulations, your baby has been born with a heart defect,” is not. It is every parent’s worst nightmare.

But every year in New Zealand the parents of 600 newborn babies learn that their child has a heart defect.

In former All Black Eroni Clarke’s case, the news was even more bleak. His son EJ has not one heart defect, but three, which was very rare.

Little EJ Clarke suffered a transposition of two major arteries, a large hole in his heart and coarctation or narrowing of the aorta. For Eroni and his wife Siala, there were many weeks of worry over their son who underwent a seven-hour heart operation when he was merely seven days old.

He would not have survived if it hadn’t been for the hole in his heart, which helped the blood move around his body, and the skill of the medical team. For Eroni and Siala, their Christian faith enabled them to cope.

Eroni says, “When I was walking through the ward, I saw so many parents and families who were hurting and desperate over what was happening to their children.” He helped wherever he was able, praying with families, and giving them hope.

Like many families of heart children, the Clarkes were grateful for the support of the country’s only organisation dedicated to supporting heart children and their families: Heart Children New Zealand.

The organisation’s annual fundraising campaign is being held from May 21 to 27. A number of events are planned for different parts of the country including a charity luncheon featuring Sir Richard Hadlee in Invercargill, Heart Stopper Challenges at BBQ Factory stores nationally, memorial services and a street appeal on Friday May 26.

Heart Children New Zealand hopes to raise $250,000 to provide essential services for heart children and their families and to develop a national network of family support workers. These people will assist heart children and their families when they return home from hospital and attempt to resume their normal lives.

It is not generally known that 12 children a week are born with heart defects, of whom half will need open heart surgery. Heart Children’s general manager, Garth Halliday says, “Children with heart defects make up the largest group of chronically ill children needing ongoing treatment. It is the most common serious birth abnormality affecting New Zealand children and 93 per cent of children with heart disease are born with it.”

Approximately 400 children this year alone will undergo some form of heart surgery. Every year 30-40 children with a heart defect lose their battle to survive. Fortunately, Eroni Clarke’s son was not among them. He is now a lively eight-year old who enjoys sports and music.

Donations to Heart Children New Zealand can be made at any branch of the Bank of New Zealand, by texting HEART to 469 (to make a $3 donation), phoning 0900 4 Heart (to donate $20) or donating online at


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