SMILING six-year-old Mahan Mokhtari looks like any other happy young boy.
But the Hartlepool youngster has already undergone five life-saving operations in his short life so far after being born with rare multiple heart defects.
When he was born in Iran, medics told his parents they did not expect him to survive for more than 24 hours.
And doctors at the world-class Great Ormond Street Hospital, in London, where Mahan is due to undergo a sixth operation soon, have not seen anyone with the same combination of problems.
But he has come out of each bout of major surgery with a smile on his face, and his parents have hailed his fighting spirit.
Doctors only discovered the six separate defects with Mahan’s heart after he was born in Tehran, Iran, in 2007.
The result is that his heart is not connected correctly to his lungs, and oxygenated and unoxygenated blood gets mixed together.
Mum Mona Azami, 34, said: “After 10 minutes they came back and said he has lots of heart issues and we immediately had to go to another hospital.
“We were told he had a maximum of just 24 hours to live.
“Before he was born everything was perfect. I was examined by the best doctors and midwifes. That’s why we were so shocked and surprised.”
The lack of oxygenated blood flowing around Mahan’s body has knock-on implications for his other major organs including his liver, kidneys and brain.
Mahan, who attends Lynnfield Primary School, had his first bout of surgery at a specialist heart hospital at six months old and went on to endure two lengthy operations in Iran before he was three.
One procedure connected his left lung to his heart with the insertion of a plastic tube.
The second cleared blockages and reconstructed the two arteries which deliver deoxygenated blood to the lungs.
The family moved to London at the end of 2010 to find a better life, and Mahan has had two opearions at Great Ormond Street so far.
They have lived in the Hart Lane area of Hartlepool for around the last three years.
Mahan is due to have his sixth operation at Great Ormond Street in July.
Like all the previous ones, it will aim to improve the flow of blood through Mahan’s heart and increase the supply of oxygenated blood.
Abbas, who worked as a filmmaker in Iran, said: “One of the doctors at Great Ormond Street calls him a phenomenon.
“They said they haven’t had a child with this complex situation before. He is one of a kind.”
Abbas said the family’s ordeal has been “indescribable”. But they have been boosted by Mahan’s sunny spirit and amazing bravery.
“He is a fighter,” Abbas said. “He wants to live, and his attitude is remarkable.”
Mona, a graphic designer, added: “He’s really happy. He loves his school, his doctors and always says ‘don’t worry I’m fine’.”