MEET LAVENITA, OUR RHEUMATIC FEVER FIGHTER
In August 2022, at just 8 years old, Lavenita was diagnosed with rheumatic fever.
When Lavenita came home from school one day complaining of a sore foot, her parents’ first thoughts were that she must have fallen or injured herself while playing. Although they couldn’t see anything visibly wrong, when Lavenita woke up the next day still with a sore foot, but also feeling drowsy and feverish, they decided a visit to the doctor was needed.
This visit quickly turned into a trip to Starship, as the family’s doctor recognised her condition might be more serious. It was there at Starship where they finally found out that Lavenita’s symptoms were a result of rheumatic fever.
Because of its seriousness, and the importance of preventing damage to her heart, Lavenita had a month-long stay in Starship.
THE TREATMENT THAT HELPED LAVENITA
Lavenita’s treatment involved a trial of hydroxychloroquine. A trial which studies have shown may help reduce inflammation in the blood which can help to reduce the likelihood of heart damage. This was also accompanied by monthly penicillin injections to help prevent rheumatic fever from coming back.
Injections were a tough one to get used to for Lavenita. However, Starship’s nurses and play specialists helped her with a special “buzzy bee” device. The buzzy bee gently vibrates and has frozen wings which confuses the nerve endings so children don’t feel pain in the same way - although, it didn’t take long before the brave Lavenita could manage without it!
When Lavenita was discharged, she initially used a wheelchair for outings from home, was off school for weeks and told to avoid sports for a few months. Now, Lavenita is happy to be back at school with her friends, where she can continue doing the things she loves, like singing and drawing.
Throughout her recovery the Starship Community team supported Lavenita’s family with weekly check-ins to monitor her progress, help her with her medication, administer her injections and even delivered books for her to read.
Although her hydroxychloroquine trial is now complete, Lavenita will need to get the injections once a month for the next ten years. This is to ensure she doesn’t experience a recurrence of rheumatic fever and will protect her heart from being damaged by rheumatic heart disease.
Lavenita’s dad says that during her experience with rheumatic fever, they’ve learned a lot about the illness and how important it is to recognise the symptoms. They’ve since given back to their community by sharing this knowledge with others.
THE RUN DOWN ON RHEUMATIC FEVER
Approximately 140 children under 14 are hospitalised with rheumatic fever or rheumatic heart disease each year.
Rheumatic fever is an autoimmune disease which often starts with a sore throat. Also known as 'strep throat', it is caused by bacteria called 'group A Streptococcus' (GAS). While most strep throats get better, if left untreated, it can lead to rheumatic fever.
Rheumatic fever causes an autoimmune reaction where the immune system mistakenly attacks other parts of the body as it tries to fight the GAS bacteria. This causes the heart, joints, brain and skin to become inflamed and swollen.
When damage of the heart valves occurs, this is called rheumatic heart disease. These valves are vital in ensuring that blood flows in the correct direction. If they are badly damaged, this can be life-threatening and can require heart surgery.
Roughly 50% of rheumatic fever cases will lead to rheumatic heart disease and permanent heart damage, and because the incidence of rheumatic fever in New Zealand is much higher than in other comparable countries, these are statistics that we are hoping to change.
HELP STARSHIP MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Together with the Starship Foundation and our super-hero customers, Mercury is helping fund an important update to the New Zealand Guidelines for Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic Heart Disease Diagnosis and Management.
The updates, which are being made in association with the Heart Foundation, will mean that more of our tamariki, like Lavenita, will benefit from early and timely diagnosis and management of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease. Ultimately this will lead to increased life expectancy and quality of life for tamariki across Aotearoa New Zealand.
“Accurate diagnosis of rheumatic fever is at the core of the new guidelines,” says Starship Paediatric Cardiologist Dr Nigel Wilson, “it is imperative that doctors are able to recognise that a child has rheumatic fever, otherwise they will return with severe, life-changing heart damage.”
“We are all so grateful that the generosity of the Starship Foundation and Mercury have helped fund the guidelines.”
Mercury has always been a strong advocate for equity and improving child health outcomes for tamariki across Aotearoa New Zealand. You can help us ensure our tamariki have better health and brighter futures by adding a monthly donation to your Mercury bill – every little bit helps!
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