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Rheumatic Heart Disease Australia

RHD Australia

June, New South Wales

Persistence pays off to get the right diagnosis  

It took the persistence of a loving grandmother to get the right diagnosis of rheumatic fever for her granddaughter. June Smith took Rikki to four doctors before she was admitted to hospital and a week later diagnosed with acute rheumatic fever. 

Timely and accurate diagnosis of acute rheumatic fever is vital in preventing damage to the heart valves known as rheumatic heart disease. However, disease identification can be a challenge for health professionals with little previous exposure to, or knowledge of, the illnesses as seems to be true of June’s experience in regional New South Wales.

June said “My granddaughter woke up crying and crawled into bed with me, the next morning she was so sore, aching everywhere and in pain. I took her straight to the doctor. I took her to four doctors in the end. The first two said there was nothing wrong, the third and fourth ones didn’t know and sent her hospital. It took a long time to find out what was wrong; they kept taking blood and more blood. Rikki said Nan “I’ll have no blood left soon”….after a week in hospital they finally said she had rheumatic fever”  

Rikki will now need long acting penicillin injections to prevent a recurrence of rheumatic fever and potential heart damage. The injections need to be given every 28 days to make sure her heart is protected. Her grandmother says of their family’s experience: “I wish I had known more about the disease and wish the doctors had told me more. Other families need to be told what to look for and how to stop it so this doesn’t happen to them.” 

June and Rikki’s story first appeared in the NACCHO Health Newspaper in November 2015.