(Media Release from Heart Foundation): Many of the 65,000 Australians born with heart defects – including nine-year-old Becky Gunnink – are alive today and able to make holiday plans thanks to the generosity of Australians who fund heart research.

The Heart Foundation is calling on Australians to continue their tradition of giving generously to heart research this holiday season in the hope it will fund research that helps save even more lives

Heart Foundation Becky Xmas Appeal 2022 – Photography By MattBiocich

from cardiovascular disease.

Becky Gunnink, 9, was born with a form of congenital heart disease known as atrioventricular septal defect or, more commonly, a hole in the heart.

Becky, who also has Down Syndrome, required three open-heart surgeries to correct the hole in her heart.

Becky is not alone – she is one of 65,000 Australian children and adults alive today who were born with a congenital form of heart disease.

The Heart Foundation’s Manager of Research, Dr Jacqueline Schmitt, said the Heart Foundation had a strong legacy of supporting research in the congenital heart disease space thanks to the ongoing support of its donors.

“Sixty years ago, it was unfathomable that so many people born with serious heart defects could survive,” Dr Schmitt said.

“This outcome is testament to the strong support of our donors who fund vital heart research.”

An example of research being funded in the congenital heart disease space is the work being done by Dr Gonzalo del Monte Nieto, a Senior Research Fellow at Monash University and a Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow.

“Gonzalo’s research is focused on the long-term issues faced by Australians born with heart disease and is aimed at better understanding heart, cardiac valve and coronary vessel formation, and the diseases associated with them,” Dr Schmitt said.

“The study has the potential to lead to more effective treatments for patients and better ways to generate tissues for transplantation.”

Every heart saved ensures many more hearts are happy. Take for example, Becky’s family.

“Becky has not just survived – she’s thriving and she’s as happy as Larry,” said Becky’s dad, Jan Gunnink.

“She doesn’t really pay attention to her heart issues. Sure, she has some scars from the operations, but she doesn’t really grasp where they came from,” he said.

Mr Gunnink said he was incredibly grateful to Australians who have donated to the Heart Foundation.
“For decades, the Heart Foundation has supported and promoted new development in heart treatment. Without research advancements, we know that Becky would not have survived.”

Your gift this holiday season can have a big impact on Australians just like Becky, and in the Heart Foundation’s fight against heart disease.

To donate to the Heart Foundation Holiday Appeal please visit


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