Ally Buchanan says her 1-year-old daughter is like any other kid.

She's a happy little girl who dances to music and plays peekaboo with her big sister Holly who's 2.

You wouldn't know by looking at her, but the Whangārei toddler has had two open heart surgeries and spent about four months in hospital.

This week is Heart Kids Awareness Week and Naia is the poster girl for Northland.

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Naia Buchanan, 1, is Northland's poster girl for Heart Kids Awareness Week. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Naia Buchanan, 1, is Northland's poster girl for Heart Kids Awareness Week. Photo / Michael Cunningham

"It's a sad situation and it is difficult. But now especially, she's just another normal kid," her mother said.

Ally found out something was wrong with Naia's heart when she was pregnant with her.

She and husband Mike were living in Te Awamutu at the time and were told at Ally's 20-week scan.

She was sent to Auckland for more scans and there she found out Naia had tricuspid atresia. Basically half of her heart had not formed properly.

"It was pretty scary, I guess, knowing that your baby is not your perfect little healthy baby."

For the remainder of her pregnancy Ally made trips to Auckland for scans and when she was 37 weeks pregnant she moved into Ronald McDonald House so she could give birth at Starship hospital.

Mike and Holly would visit during the weekends.

"It was not the ideal situation. The first night my husband and I spent apart since getting married was when we were thrown into this. It was lonely for me and Mike."

Naia Buchanan has had two open heart surgeries and has spent around four months in hospital. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Naia Buchanan has had two open heart surgeries and has spent around four months in hospital. Photo / Michael Cunningham

On March 20 last year Naia was born.

"We got a little cuddle and she was sent off to the NICU and got hooked up to heaps of stuff," she said.

Naia had one procedure on her heart the next day. She was then transferred to the heart ward and after about a week and a half the family were able to return to Te Awamutu where they were visited by home care.

Two weeks later they headed to Starship again to await Naia's first surgery at 6 weeks old.

"It was scary. You send in a baby that looks healthy and happy and you go back and her chest is still open. So she's just got this little napkin over but you can still see her chest was very much open. And there's tubes everywhere," she said.

Naia and Ally were in Starship for about two and a half months after that surgery, and then stayed in Waikato hospital for a few weeks before going home.

Naia and sister Holly, 2. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Naia and sister Holly, 2. Photo / Michael Cunningham

They were home for about a month and then returned to Starship for Naia's second surgery. They were home within a month, and in December they moved to Whangārei.

Ally said Heart Kids had been a great support.

She connected with them when she was pregnant, and went to her first coffee group just before she moved to Auckland for Naia's birth.

"It was really cool to talk to mums of other babies and kids who had grown up and were healthy, that had been through the same thing. It was great establishing those contacts, I could lean on them if I wanted to."

Naia and mum Ally Buchanan. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Naia and mum Ally Buchanan. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Naia will have another open heart surgery at age 3 or 4 but Ally said she is doing well.

"I'm so stoked she's just loving life and growing and getting stronger every day."

Heart Kids receives no funding from the Government so it relies on public support. Visit www.helpingheartkids.org.nz, or text HEART to 2427 to make a $3 donation.