LITTLE Zac Hickman has shown he's a real fighter after surviving open heart surgery while just days old.

And now the seven-month-old, of Laburnum Drive, Somerton, Newport, has been nominated to receive an extra-special gift from Santa this year in the South Wales Argus Toy Appeal.

He was put forward by his aunt, Jayne Gray. Earlier this year, we revealed how the tot had been born with a serious blockage in a blood vessel in the heart, which was restricting blood flow, and a heart murmur. Mum Helen Witheridge panicked when Zac stopped breathing while they were still in hospital.

She said: "It was terrible. Everything was happening so quickly." Two days after Zac was born he was rushed to the special care unit at the city's Royal Gwent Hospital, where his weight plummeted from 6lb 7oz to just 5lb.

But he still struggled to breathe, and when he was nine days old doctors made the decision to operate.

Zac was rushed by ambulance under police escort to Bristol Children's Hospital. Helen, 22, said: "I had to sign a consent form and the doctor told me Zac might not survive the operation.

"That was terrible but I tried not to think about it." Helen, who kept vigil at the hospital with her partner, Allen Hickman, 24, was allowed to cuddle Zac before he went into theatre.

The couple remained at the hospital until the five-hour operation was over. Helen said: "When we saw him afterwards he had tubes in him. He was in intensive care and on a life-support machine for the first 48 hours.

"We kept talking to him and telling him all about the teddies that people had bought for him." Zac woke up of his own accord some days later. Helen said: "I was crying with relief. I remember he looked so tiny."

Zac remained in hospital for the next four weeks. He arrived home on Jubilee Day. Helen said: "It was really lovely. We took to my mum's house and there was a party." Doctors have been pleased with Zac's progress since the operation.

He has suffered several bouts of chest infection, but that has not held him back. Helen said: "He's into everything and was crawling by four months. "I think he looks really big compared to what he used to be like."

Nominations for our toy giveaway competition, run in conjunction with Big W, have now closed, and we will bring you the results later this week.

PICTURED: Zac with mum Helen