The Heart Warrior’s Mother
Kerry-Anne Aarons is over the moon. She and her husband, Imran Patel, are about to become the parents of a baby daughter, and give their son, Leo, an adored little sister. It wasn’t planned, but Kerry knows that Lily’s arrival will complete the perfect little family she has always wanted. She, Imran and their two children are going to live happily ever after…
Then life intervenes.
Lily is born with a serious congenital heart defect and Kerry’s battle to save her daughter commences. It’s a battle that takes her from the operating theatres and Intensive Care Units of local hospitals to the High Court of South Africa. It’s a battle that strains her relationships with her friends, her parents, and – ultimately – her husband. It’s a battle she is determined to win.
But how much will Kerry have to sacrifice to give Lily the future she deserves?
“A true, cross-generational story of the eternal link between love and pain… the greater the love, the more inevitable the pain. Marilyn Cohen de Villiers once again – with amazing skill – depicts the common humanity that transcends differing cultures.”James Mitchell – former Book Editor, The Star, Johannesburg
A percentage of the proceeds of this novel will be donated to the Children’s Cardiac Foundation of Africa, an organisation that funds lifesaving heart surgery for children across the continent.
I was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, the youngest daughter of an extraordinarily ordinary, happy, stable, traditional (rather than observant) Jewish family. After matriculating at Northview High School, I went to Rhodes University in Grahamstown where I served on the Student’s Representative Council (SRC), competed (badly) in synchronised swimming and completed a B. Journalism degree. This was followed by a “totally useless” – according to my parents – English Honours degree (first class), also at Rhodes.
With the dawning of the turbulent 1980s, I started my career as a reporter on a daily newspaper, working first in the news and later, the finance departments. During this period, I interviewed, among others, Frank Sinatra, Jeffrey Archer, Eugene Terre’blanche and Desmond Tutu. I caught crocodiles; avoided rocks and tear smoke canisters in various South African townships as protests and unrest against the Apartheid government intensified; stayed awake through interminable city council meetings and criminal and civil court cases – and learned to interpret balance sheets.
I also married my news editor, Poen de Villiers. Despite all the odds against us coming as we did from totally different backgrounds, we remained happily married for 32 years and three days. Poen passed away as a result of diabetes complications on 15 March, 2015.
After the birth of our two daughters, I ‘crossed over’ into Public Relations with its regular hours and predictability. My writing – articles, media releases, opinion and thought leadership pieces and so on – was published regularly in newspapers and other media, usually under someone else’s by-line. I returned to my roots as a journalist in a freelance capacity some six years ago, writing mainly business and IT articles.
So why, after a lifetime of writing non-fiction, did I decide to try my hand at fiction?
The catalyst was the unexpected death of a childhood friend and colleague in 2012. This spurred me to take stock of my life, to think about what I had achieved. A few months later, I decided to try and write a novel. This turned out to be A Beautiful Family which was published in July 2014. The fiction bug had bitten, and my second novel, When Time Fails, was launched in September 2015, followed by Deceive and Defend, in 2018. Although this was not intended when I first started writing fiction, the three novels together constitute The Silverman Saga trilogy
Unlike my earlier novels, my latest book, The Heart Warrior’s Mother, was inspired by a true story.
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I don’t have a review for this book because, as much as I wanted to read it, I couldn’t squeeze it into my schedule. That said, it’s on my TBR list, so “watch this space”. For now, I have an extract to whet your appetite. Thank you, Marilyn.
When Lily was born and diagnosed with a congenital heart defect (CHD), her parents, Kerry-Anne and Imran, were told that she would have to undergo several open heart surgeries if she was to have a “normal” life. The first major surgery was undertaken when Lily was just 10 days old, and despite a minor setback, she had come through that with flying colours. In this extract, Lily has just had her second scheduled open heart surgery and Kerry and Imran are allowed into the ICU to see her.
“Okay, Kerry,” she said to herself. “You can do this. Just walk over there and see exactly what is going on. It can’t be as bad as it looks from here.”
She forced her legs to carry her across the ICU to Lily’s cot. She could sense Imran walking next to her. She kept her eyes fixed on the cot. She stopped and grasped the cold metal cot side. She took a deep breath. She looked. She made a mental list of what her eyes were seeing.
Machines, lots of machines, blinking and beeping.
A nurse fiddling with one of the machines.
A naked baby girl.
A shock of thick black hair. Lily had thick black hair.
A round little face barely visible beneath thick white tapes holding a fat tube in place in her mouth. That meant the baby had been intubated and was breathing with the aid of a ventilator.
Bruised-looking eyes, closed.
“I’m … I’m going outside for some air,” Imran said.
Kerry nodded vaguely and continued her itemised examination.
Limp arms. Little hands tied to the cot’s sides.
A large, bloodstained dressing stretching from vulnerable little throat to belly button.
A blood machine circulating the baby’s blood outside her body, just like the baby son of that dignified woman with the bible. That baby had died.
Stitches. Lots of black stitches. Everywhere.
Kerry looked up. Her eyes took in Imran through the glass panel on the ICU door. His eyes were closed. His face was twisted in silent agony. She returned her gaze to the baby.
Catheter draining urine from the bladder.
Drips, feeding medication into the baby’s neck.
Drains, lots of drains, blood-filled drains. Coming out of her tummy and her chest. Draining fluid from somewhere.
So much blood. Why so much blood?
“How is she?” Kerry heard a voice whisper. Had she spoken? Her throat was parched. Her tongue was thick.
“She’s just come out of theatre. She’s holding her own,” the nurse said.
Kerry nodded. She returned to her examination of the almost lifeless body. It looked like a prop from a horror movie – a damaged doll, disfigured and tortured by a sadistic Chucky-child.
A thought squeezed into her frozen consciousness. That was her baby lying there. Her Lily. She turned and strode across the ICU. She pushed open the glass panel door. She walked towards her husband. She began to shake uncontrollably.
“My baby! My baby!” she screamed.
Imran caught her as she fell. Tears were streaming down his face.
Sandy, Jade, Paul, Eliot and Josh – Josh who never entered a hospital – came down the corridor towards the ICU. They watched in horrified silence as Kerry and Imran rocked together in a slow shuffle of anguish, Kerry wailing incoherently, inconsolably.
“What is it? What’s happened,” Eliot asked as his younger sister’s wails shuddered into hiccupping sobs.
“Lily – is she …,” Sandy’s voice faded. Josh stood stiffy, silently, poised to take off back down the corridor if Kerry started howling again. Paul and Jade looked intently at an invisible mark on the wall above Kerry’s head.
“It’s okay. It’s just that she’s … it was such a shock seeing her like that. It’s just … it’s awful. It’s horrible. There’s all these tubes and blood and the respirator and… and she looks, she looks…” Kerry couldn’t continue.
Imran pulled her close again. “She looks terrible. I … I couldn’t bear to see her like that. You have no idea …”
They all stood there in the corridor, in a huddle of friendship and love… and terror.
“Let’s get out of here,” Imran said after a while.
Josh gratefully led the subdued little troop upstairs, through the foyer and out into the still bright sunshine. They sat on the hospital’s front steps.
“Yo – you’re still a noisy cry baby, aren’t you,” Eliot teased. “You should have seen her when she was a kid. We just had to look at her sideways, Neville and me, and she’d start howling.”
Kerry giggled. It wasn’t true, of course. Eliot and Neville had been pretty kind to her when they were growing up, all things considered. When they hadn’t been ignoring her.
“Yeah, and I remember that time when Imran…” Sandy chimed in, quickly taking up the task of trying to distract her friends, trying to make them laugh a little, before they’d have to go back and face the sight that no parent should ever have to see.
You can read more about this book, including several reviews by checking out these blogs.