Having your first baby on the first day New Zealand moved into level 4 lockdown would have been difficult enough for most young parents.

But for Kerikeri couple Aria Leaf and husband Josh bringing their baby boy into the world knowing he would have to undergo heart surgery within his first few days was devastating.

Baby Kalo was born with a number of issues with his heart including transposition of the great arteries (known as D-TGA), a congenital heart defect where the aorta and pulmonary artery are switched from their normal positions.

This meant he wasn't getting enough oxygen pumped around his tiny body.


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Aria was due to be induced on Monday March 23, but due to a lack of space at Auckland Hospital this was postponed until the Wednesday when strict Covid-19 restrictions came into force meaning only Josh was allowed to be present at the birth, and not Aria's mum.

"I was supposed to have two people there; Mum and Josh, but because of Covid I was only allowed one person. It was super stressful,'' she said.

"Kalo was taken away to Nicu (neonatal intensive care unit) because of his heart condition. He had to be monitored immediately and have a ballooning procedure done to stabilise him before he had surgery.

"He couldn't get enough oxygen to survive. The next morning, he was taken to Starship.

"It was so hard not having Mum there; it was pretty awful."

Baby Kalo in hospital in March after undergoing bypass surgery to fix his heart. Photo / Supplied
Baby Kalo in hospital in March after undergoing bypass surgery to fix his heart. Photo / Supplied

Kalo had heart bypass surgery on day four to repair the D-TGA complications.

He was also born with moderate ventricular septal defect (VSD) and a small patent foramen ovale (PFO), separate holes between the lower and upper chambers of the heart which were stitched up during the surgery.


Because of restrictions due to the pandemic, Josh wasn't allowed to be with Aria and the couple had to take turns seeing their newborn son.

Their first family photo was via FaceTime.

The couple were living in Taupō when Aria became pregnant with Kalo.

When they found out about his heart condition at 29 weeks, their midwife suggested they move home to the Far North where family could support them. The couple have parents and siblings in Kerikeri.

The now healthy-looking 3-month old is doing fine, Aria said, but a recent check-up revealed all was not well.

Josh and Aria Leaf with baby Kalo, who was born with several heart complications. Photo / Supplied
Josh and Aria Leaf with baby Kalo, who was born with several heart complications. Photo / Supplied

"We're going back in two weeks, and they're going to do another test. They have to go in through his groin into his heart and look at the size of his heart. It's likely he'll have to have another surgery."


Having the support of Heart Kids – the only organisation in New Zealand dedicated to supporting heart kids through life – has been "a massive help", Aria said.

The not-for-profit organisation provides support services to kids, teens and adults living with a childhood heart condition and their families.

An outreach nurse visits the couple twice a week, giving emotional support, resources to help them understand about the heart, and other practical information and advice.

"Heart Kids has been so amazing," Aria said.

"When we were in Auckland, they took us to a cafe, gave us vouchers and offered some great emotional support and helped out financially. They've been a massive help."

Heart Kids' annual appeal has gone virtual this year due to Covid-19. People are encouraged to donate to a "virtual bucket" online.


The charity – which receives no government funding – aims to raise $100,000 by the end of July. So far around $58,000 has been donated.

Visit www.shakeabucket.org.nz/ if you can help.

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