Friday, July 15, 2022

The Heart Warrior's Mother by Marilyn Cohen De Villiers - Book Tour

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.

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Guest Post
My latest book, The Heart Warrior’s Mother, was inspired by the true story of a real-life heart warrior – a child born with a congenital heart defect (CHD). Writing it was a harrowing yet rewarding journey into the lives of parents whose precious babies are born with a potentially fatal condition. It’s a condition most of us know very little about.  I was stunned to learn that one in 100 children is born with a congenital heart defect. In fact, it’s approximately 60 times more prevalent than childhood cancer and about 25 times more common than cystic fibrosis.

 But while it is based on fact, The Heart Warrior’s Mother is a story about a fictitious mother, Kerry-Anne Aarons; her adored and adoring husband (Imran Patel); their delightful little boy (Leo); and a perfect, newborn daughter (Lily - nicknamed Tiger Lily). While all the characters in the novel are fictional, baby Lily (apart from her name) isn’t. I did my best to bring the brave little heart warrior with her big brown eyes, feisty personality and booming laugh to life on the pages of the novel.

 Things start to unravel for Kerry-Anne and Imran when baby Lily’s heart condition is diagnosed and the battle to save her commences. It’s a battle that takes them from the operating theatres and Intensive Care Units of local hospitals to the High Court of South Africa. It’s a battle that strains all their relationships with the families, friends and, almost inevitably, each other.

 Ultimately, this is a story of love and loss, pain and hope.

 After The Heart Warrior’s Mother was published, I received an email from Professor Rob Kinsley (81), the South African doyen of paediatric cardiac surgery and a founder member of the World Society of Paediatric and Congenital Heart Surgery. After more than 50 years in paediatric cardiac surgery in South Africa, Professor Rob Kinsley established The Children’s Cardiac Foundation of Africa TCCFA ( in 2019 to “save the lives and improve the health of children born with congenital heart disease in Africa by raising funds for heart surgeries and by training specialists and support staff in the field of paediatric cardiac care”. Research led by Prof Kinsley a few years before had revealed that while most developed countries have one congenital heart surgeon for 3.5 million individuals, in Africa the corresponding figure is one congenital heart surgeon for 38 million individuals. This makes Africa the most underserved continent in terms of congenital heart surgery for children like Lily.

 I will be donating a percentage of my royalties from The Heart Warrior’s Mother to the TCCFA.

 In his email, Prof Kiinsley wrote:

 Hi Marilyn,

             Thank you for "The Heart Warrior's Mother". Sad (but true) as it was, I enjoyed the read. So well written  

 Wow! How can a mother be subjected to such an ordeal? But it all actually happened. Your description of all medical aspects is amazingly accurate. 

 As doctors, we tend to overlook the extraordinary stress and hardship families are subjected to when a child is born with a congenital heart defect and embarks on the often long and tortuous road of correction, with an uncertain outcome. There is indeed, for a mother, nothing more special than their newly born child.

In my view, your book should be read by every trainee (and trained) paediatric cardiac surgeon, cardiologist, paediatrician and others. It will give them a better understanding of the more 'complete ' picture; rather than simply 'the patient'. It would make them better, more holistic, medical providers.

I started the unit at Sunninghill Hospital in 2003 and trained all the current surgeons. The unit was called the Walter Sisulu Paediatric Cardiac Centre for Africa (WSPCCA). The unit was opened officially on 7 November 2003 by Nelson Mandela. He was the patron and visited the unit often, sometimes with celebrities such as President Bill Clinton. At the entrance we established a 'tree of life' depicting about 1000 patients (one of whom was the real baby Lily) from many African countries who were operated upon through the Foundation. The financial drain on your novel’s family was too awful.

I left Sunninghill Hospital in 2017 to start a much needed unit in Durban. Similar to the WSPCCA, the TCCFA is intended to help children denied corrective surgery because of limited state facilities and lack of funds. It is proceeding slowly.

I have many patients operated on as neonates or infants (some with Tricuspid Atresia – the same condition as Lily) who are now in their 40's with their own families. One such patient was Claire, who was given a month to live as a three-month infant is now a 40-year-old paediatric cardiac anaesthetist in London with two children.

We always hope for such outcomes but sadly this is not always the case. We never like to give up but it is often to the detriment (scores of 'procedures' etc) of the patient, mother and family. One must question the decision to persevere while we seek the impossible or insurmountable. One of my patients had surgery at 24 hours of age and several subsequent 'procedures' before having a heart/lung transplant at 16 years. That was four years ago. He currently rides in cycle events. What if we had not persevered and given up? So difficult to decide.

Once again, thank you for the book.


Rob Kinsley


Author Bio –

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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