Stepping up to Rheumatic Fever

TAIRAWHITI’S sixth rheumatic fever champion is Nancy Aupouri.

She was brought up on a farm in the Tapuaeroa Valley in Ruatoria with five siblings.

“Being a blue-eyed, barefooted tomboy, I loved the outdoors and spent my free time riding horses, swimming doing sports and kapa haka. Mum was a dental nurse and dad was a farmer. We were a typical East Coast whanau.

“When I was around 10 years old, I attended Manutahi School. I remember having sore legs and I kept going to school and didn’t tell anyone about it. This went on for a week and seemed to be getting worse to the point I was struggling to walk. I remember getting dropped off at home by the school bus and I struggled to walk up our hilly driveway. Mum picked me up in the car on her way home from work.

“The next morning I couldn’t get out of bed as my legs were too painful and mum knew something was wrong as I wasn’t the type of kid to lie around.

“She took me to Te Puia Hospital where I was diagnosed as having rheumatic fever. The doctors said I had to stay in hospital for at least six weeks and I had to have daily penicillin injections.

“There were other children in my ward that had the same thing as me and we found it difficult to stay on bedrest. They soon became my friends.

“When it was time for me to go home I was offered the choice of regular injections or pills. I chose the pills but couldn’t remember to take them every day, so I had to go on monthly penicillin injections,” she says.

The rheumatic fever damaged her aortic and mitral valve.

“In my early thirties I got pregnant with my son and had to have an aortic valve replacement and mitral valvotomy at Greenlane Clinical Centre (in Auckland), so I could survive the pregnancy and the delivery. This was very traumatic for me and my whanau,” she says.

“As I recovered from the operation I felt less breathless and much stronger. I had a trouble-free pregnancy and delivery.

“During this time I managed to hold down my career as a nurse, give birth again to twin girls and lead a normal life, but the key here was looking after myself and attending specialist appointments,” she says.

Her advice after this journey to all parents and caregivers is to make sure your child gets a checkup if they have complained of sore limbs, sore throat or feeling unwell.

“The checkups are free and could prevent them from getting rheumatic fever,” she said.


Tips for prevention

Warmer, drier homes

• Open your curtains during the day and close them at night. Your windows let heat in during the day. Close curtains to keep the heat in, and the cold out.

• Stop cold air getting into your home by stopping draughts around doors, windows and fireplaces.

• Find out if your home is insulated. Insulation is one of the best ways to keep your home warm.

• Open windows (ventilate) in the kitchen when you cook, and in the bathroom when you shower or take a bath, to let steam out.

• Wipe off any water that has collected (condensation) on walls and on the inside of windows to keep your home dry, and easier to heat.

• Dry your washing outside or in the garage or carport.

It keeps the dampness from your washing (which can build up condensation) outside of your home.

• Use bleach or white vinegar to remove mould from ceilings and walls. Mould grows in damp and wet places and it can affect your family’s health.

• If you have been checked for a sore-throat by one of the clinics and meet the criteria (infants and children being the priority), for follow-up; you may be referred to the Healthy Homes Initiative service who will contact you to organise a healthy housing assessment.

What if my child gets rheumatic fever?

• Rheumatic fever has lifelong consequences for health, including years of monthly injections and possible heart valve replacement surgery.

• Rheumatic fever can lead to rheumatic heart disease. This is where there is scarring of the heart valves. This stops valves from working properly.

• Once diagnosed with rheumatic fever, a huge concern is that the future of the child has changed. — quoted by Dr Lance O’Sullivan, Northland GP.

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