Brave Derry schoolgirl Hollie lives life to the full

Hollie pictured with her mother Claire at her home. (1602SL44) Photo: Stephen Latimer
Hollie pictured with her mother Claire at her home. (1602SL44) Photo: Stephen Latimer

Hollie Rodgers is in very many ways just a typical 11 year old girl. She likes hanging out with her friends, singing the latest pop songs, shopping for shoes and being artistic.

Her younger sister Grace (5) drives her mad from time to time by borrowing her things without asking and her big brother Jack (16) can get on her nerves. She loves hanging out with her friends from Oakgrove College, especially her best friend Gemma.

Looking at Hollie, you wouldn’t think for one second that the brave first year pupil, who will turn 12 in May, lives with a serious heart condition which almost claimed her life when she was just five days old.

Hollie was born with a double inlet left ventricle, and co-arctation of the aorta. In layman’s terms she was born with “half a heart”.

Her mother Claire explained, however, that her daughter’s condition was not picked up on during her pregnancy or even at birth.

“I suppose the technology even then was not as advanced as it is now and no problems were detected during my pregnancy.” Hollie was born a healthy 6lb 13oz - Claire said she was just “a perfect wee dote”.

The family went home and, Claire said, very gradually over the next few days Hollie “just slowed down”.

“It was such a slow, gradual process. She just fed less, moved less. At first people would just tell us we had a contented wee baby, so no one thought anything was wrong.”

It was only when Hollie was five days and stopped moving, and refused to feed that Claire became hugely concerned.

“I didn’t know what was wrong, but my gut told me it was something very serious. I remember on the drive to the hospital just kissing her and telling her I loved her.”

Upon arriving at Altnagelvin Claire was given the devastating news their daughter had a serious heart defect and were told it was “potentially salvageable”. “She was close to dying when we reached the hospital. Her heart was failing. Doctors had to work for several hours just to stabilise her.”

Five day old Hollie was then transferred to the Royal where Claire was told her daughter would require open heart surgery and ongoing treatment into the future.

“It was hard to come to terms with the fact that she wasn’t going to get better in a few days, that one operation wasn’t going to make her better.”

Thankfully Claire found the support of Children’s Heartbeat Trust whose help has been immeasurable over the last 11 years, especially at the times when Hollie has had to undergo surgery. The charity offered support and advice as well as practical help Claire and her family - including providing accommodation in the Royal where they could stay while Hollie was an inpatient.

Hollie has undergone open heart surgery twice and must take medication on a daily basis - however she says herself she “just likes to get on with things”.

“I get tired sometimes, but if I take it easy I know I’ll be fine,” she said.

She is starting singing lessons next week and fully intends to live life to the full. Meanwhile Claire has now become co-ordinator of a local Children’s Heartbeat Trust support group and anyone who wants to talk, meet or find out more can contact her on claireball7@gmail.com or visit www.childrensheartbeattrust.org