Don't muck around with your kids' sore throats

31 July 2018

Rowena Hollis hails from Ruatorea. She is the youngest of a big whānau. She grew up living with her siblings and cousins, a life she loved very much, there was no such thing as overcrowding; the more the merrier for her whānau.

In her early forties and still living in Ruatorea, Rowena remembers feeling unwell with a sore throat, headaches, achy joints and after several visits to the local GP she was diagnosed with a bad case of the flu and told she needed bed-rest for up to eight days. Rowena’s health further deteriorated and no one could tell her why she wasn’t getting better.

She felt like she was dying. This prompted her to seek a second opinion. Rowena asked to see another local doctor who immediately after diagnosing her sent her to Gisborne hospital for tests. It was there that tests proved she had rheumatic fever and required immediate open heart surgery to replace one of her heart valves. This would mean spending a great deal of time in both Gisborne and Waikato hospitals. Being away from her small children and relying on whānau to take care of them was heartbreaking for her.

Not long after her operation she accidentally overdosed on her ‘warfarin’ medication causing internal bleeding to her lower spine, which would lead to back complications for the rest of her life.

Today Rowena has ongoing health checks for her heart and her warfarin intake is monitored regularly. Her home in Gisborne has been retrofitted with equipment to better help her to move around the house; otherwise, her children and mokopuna are her strength and each day helps her to cope with her disability.

Rowena is planning her fiftieth birthday celebration in August and during this interview, she has in her hands a photo collage she has been working on, it’s of her whānau, her everything.

After her own experience, Rowena has become a strong advocate for Rheumatic Fever awareness. Getting sore throats checked is a priority, ‘Don’t muck around whanau, get your kid’s sore throats seen straight away’.


Does your tamaiti have a sore throat? Get it swabbed.

If your child has a sore throat, take them to your local health professional to get tested. It’s quick and easy and FREE. Sore throat bugs (GAS) mainly spread through air when coughing and sneezing, so create as much space as possible between the heads of sleeping children.

Rheumatic Fever is still present in our communities. Māori and Pacific children and young adults aged 4 to 19 years are more likely to get rheumatic fever – especially if they have other whānau members who have had it.

Warmer, drier homes

  • Open your curtains during the day and close them at night. Your windows let heat in during the day. Closing 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 you’re 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 organize a healthy housing assessment


What happens 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.


See a clip here from the documentary ‘Take Heart’ on Rheumatic Fever and Lance O’Sullivan.