A brave Londonderry boy was today recovering at home after undergoing a third major lifesaving heart operation at the age of just five.
The parents of Mark Cairns praised medics in Belfast for their sterling work in helping save the lives of children across Northern Ireland at the busy cardio unit at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.
The boy, who was born with a hole in his heart, returned home at the weekend after undergoing the third major operation in his short life.
Mark was cheered up during his four-week recuperation in hospital when rally driving star Eugene Donnelly paid him a visit.
The latest procedure he had to undergo involved the tying of veins from his lower body directly to those connected to his lungs, bypassing the underdeveloped right side of his heart.
The battler was born in the Royal in May 2002 after routine scans at Altnagelvin Hospital showed that he would be born with congenital heart disease. He had his first operation at five weeks, followed by open heart surgery at 50 weeks.
His dad Colin said today that he was pleased to have Mark home. The family now live in Claudy, having moved from the Waterside.
"This was his third major surgery which has been really hard on him for such a wee lad, but it needed to be done," he said.
"There were a few setbacks but the staff at the Royal have been fantastic and we are so pleased to have him home.
"We don't like to make too big a fuss. There are children from all over Northern Ireland receiving such important treatment, but we really want to highlight the good work that is being done.
"The surgeon Denis Gladstone and consultant Dr Brian Craig were amazing and the people at the Royal are saving lives every day.
"He is getting a lot of physio and we see improvements already. He is less breathless than he was."
Dr Gladstone, who specialises in treating children, told the Telegraph that he only performs the operation between two or three times each year.
"Mark seems to be making excellent progress," he said.
"He had a rather complex type of heart condition where he only had one pumping chamber working as opposed to two. This condition is not desperately uncommon, but in his case it did require a series of operations."
Mark first met his idol Eugene Donnelly when, at the Circuit of Ireland Rally in 2006, winner Eugene pulled Mark and a pal from the crowd for a podium celebration.
He said: "Mark is a great wee lad and I have a massive amount of time for him. I met him before, he came to see me at the rally, so it was only right that I should come and see him.
"He has had a rough time over the past few weeks but he is over the worst, thank God, and I was glad to be able to give him a wee lift and at the same time highlight the brilliant work that is going on at the Royal."
Dad Colin added: "Mark was delighted to see Eugene again and I am really pleased that he went to all the trouble of visiting my son and bringing him gifts to cheer him up, it gave him a real lift."