Bellanaleck seven-year-old Alfie Keys is a feisty character, full of life as well as chat.
He has an impressive toy aeroplane collection, loves getting out on his grandad’s John Deere at the farm and when he wants to relax, he watches Youtube videos of world renowned storm chaser, Pekos Hank (sorry Barra Best, bad luck Frank Mitchell - he hasn’t a clue who either of you are!).
To look at him and his cheeky grin you would never know that this brave little warrior has undergone eight heart operations in his short life to date.
That’s because Alfie takes it all in his stride. Born with a hole in his heart at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, Alfie had his first open heart surgery at just four-days-old.
Since the very day he was born he has proven over and over again what a little fighter he is.
And despite the limitations that his complex heart condition imposes on him, he recently won a trophy at a swimming gala.
Sitting at home surrounded by his huge aeroplane collection, proud mum, Jennifer explains that Alfie’s latest surgery in Birmingham took place just a few weeks ago.
And true to form, Alfie braved the procedure with the same nonchalant attitude he has displayed on countless occasions before now.
“He went into theatre on his scooter!” says Jennifer. The doctors said: ‘We have never seen anything like this before’. Alfie wasn’t phased. When they put the mask on his face and the gas came on, he was fine.
“When he came back from theatre he was a bit groggy but he looked at his daddy and said: ‘Go and get me a McDonalds please!’.
“That was three weeks ago now.”
Doctors are hoping this operation has bought Alfie some time ahead of what is likely to be his next open heart surgery, when he is around nine or 10.
“They did what they could,” says Jennifer, “I would be over the moon of Alfie could get into double figures before he needed his next surgery.
“He will get a CT scan in six months to a year to see how the heart is performing.”
In the meantime though, Alfie has plenty to look forward to. With the summer holidays in full swing he and his family are looking ahead to a very special trip to the Greek island of Skiathos soon.
The holiday is thanks to the Make A Wish Foundation, set up to create unforgettable experiences for children with life-threatening medical conditions and their families.
Alfie has chosen Skiathos in particular because its airport is famously close to a public road, making it a popular destination for planespotters.
“I can’t wait to go,” says Alfie, who says his favourite subject at school is “playtime”. “I love planes. I really love swimming too, I love jumping in. And I like playing rugby and tackling my big brother Alex!”
For parents, Nigel and Jennifer, life with a ‘heart child’ is made easier thanks to Alfie’s positive ‘can-do’ attitude.
“We are very proud of him,” says Jennifer, “He just gets on with things. He has also been diagnosed with other health issues but he doesn’t let any of it affect him. As parents it can be hard to understand why he gets hit with everything, but he doesn’t get stressed by it at all. He is very good.
“He still gets breathless when he is running about but that doesn’t hold him back - he adapts, he takes a rest and he gets up and goes again.”