Lifesaving heart surgery for a little animal lover

Caroline conquers heart defect with pro bono operation

Tuesday, March 28 2023

It was a bolt from the blue for the family of nine-year-old Caroline Smit when the little girl who wants to be a veterinarian one day suddenly fainted in November. This led doctors to discover that she was living with a large hole in her heart.

“We had no idea Caroline had a heart condition until then, and for my wife and I it was the start of a long and painful journey when the tests showed she needed a very urgent heart operation – I could never wish this on anyone else,” recalls Caroline’s father, Petrus Smit.

Thanks to a lifesaving procedure made possible by the Netcare Foundation with specialists of the renowned Maboneng Heart and Lung Institute providing their expertise pro bono (free of charge), Caroline was recently able to undergo the intricate procedure at the advanced paediatric cardiothoracic unit at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital to correct the congenital heart defect, which was placing great strain on the left side of her heart and risking further permanent damage.

Mande Toubkin, general manager of emergency, trauma, transplant and corporate social investment (CSI) at Netcare, and a trustee of the Netcare Foundation says there is an overwhelming need for these specialised heart operations, which are highly resource intensive.

“Working together with specialists and non-profit organisations like the Maboneng Foundation, which coordinates funding for surgeries, the private sector can help to secure the futures of children like Caroline, who urgently require heart operations,” Toubkin says.

Pic: Nine-year-old Caroline Smit, a little animal lover who wants to be a vet when she grows up, is back home and recovering well after a recent operation to repair a large hole in her heart at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital. The surgery was made possible by the Netcare Foundation with specialists of the Maboneng Heart and Lung Institute providing their expertise pro bono to assist Caroline, pictured here with her father Petrus and mother Lucille.

“Caroline, who has a history of experiencing tiredness and headaches, was referred to us from the public sector after receiving treatment when she suddenly lost consciousness at the end of last year,” comments cardiothoracic surgeon and co-founder of the Maboneng Heart and Lung Institute, Dr Erich Schürmann who led the medical team who donated their time and expertise pro bono to assist Caroline.

“The little girl from Tzaneen had been diagnosed with atrial septal defect [ASD] secundum, meaning there was a large hole in her heart between the upper two chambers, forcing more blood into the right side which was enlarging under the pressure. Over time, this can be severely damaging to the growing child’s health and surgery was therefore needed as soon as possible to give her the best chance of living a healthy, active life,” he says.

The specialised ASD closure procedure to repair Caroline’s heart defect was performed by cardiothoracic surgeons Dr Schürmann and Dr Martin Myburgh of the Maboneng Heart and Lung Institute, paediatric cardiologist Dr Jane Pilusa who practises at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital, as well as anaesthetist Dr Krishnee Naidoo and cardiac perfusionist Mr Mogotsi Mophosho.

Caroline recovered rapidly after her operation and was discharged from hospital a mere three days later.

Mr Smit says, “It feels like a mountain has been lifted from our shoulders. Our little angel is already feeling better and it is really something to see the difference in her eyes and in her energy levels since the operation. She is running around and playing like a normal kid.

“My wife, Lucille, and I can never thank the Foundations as well as the doctors and nurses enough for all they have done for our daughter in making this surgery possible. We are very grateful for the emotional support of our family and friends, and the kind assistance with the paperwork from my boss’s wife, Marlie Louw.

“Caroline is such a caring child. She is a young lady who loves nature and animals, especially our two dogs at home. She also really loves her grandfather, my father who lives with us, and it is such a huge relief for our family that our daughter’s heart is now working as it should,” the proud father says.


“Whether a donation to a worthy cause such as this is large or modest, there are few initiatives more rewarding than making a difference to a child’s life. We wish Caroline everything of the best for her future, and hope she realises her dream of working with animals when she grows up,” Toubkin concludes. 

For more information about the Maboneng Foundation, which coordinates sponsorship of the procedures, or to make a donation please visit

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