Boost for heart disease diagnosis

20 July 2016

Diagnosing heart disease in Tairāwhiti has come a long way in the last couple of years. Previously if there was a suspicion that you might have heart disease, often you would be on the road to Waikato for diagnostic tests. Now thanks an American, a Canadian turned Kiwi and a focus on training our own, diagnostics are increasingly available in Gisborne.

Tom Mortemore is a qualified cardiac sonographer from Portland Oregon who has been in Gisborne for two years. He was employed to set up a stress echocardiography service at Gisborne Hospital. Stress echocardiography or a stress echo test is a procedure which identifies how well your heart and blood vessels are working. People who have are experiencing chest pain or heart problems exercise on a treadmill or stationary bike. The cardiac sonographer monitors blood pressure and heart rhythm. Ultrasound imaging shows how well the patient’s heart muscles are working to pump blood to the body.

Mark Ramsbottom is getting his heart checked out by Tom Mortlemore

Mark Ramsbottom is getting his heart checked out with a stress echo sonogram while exercising by sonographer Tom Mortlemore.

Tom commented “The test is used to try and explain chest pain. Stress echoes are commonly used to detect a decrease in blood flow to the heart from narrowing of the coronary arteries. While resting, you can only tell if someone has had a heart attack or is having one. By applying stress to the heart with exercise, we can tell if someone is at risk of having a heart attack. That is why it is so useful.”

During the test Tom watches the heart beating, he looks for indications of heart defects, heart disease and what might be causing it.

“Over the last 12 months the stress echo service has completed 103 tests. We can now offer a same day service for urgent cases or people with less urgent symptoms will be seen within three weeks. Thanks to the service we are minimising inconvenience to people who previously would have to travel to Waikato, and wait up to 8 weeks for a scheduled appointment as well as saving money.”

Tom has also boosted the cardiogram service at Gisborne Hospital. “Previously it was only part time service with no back up. People often had a long wait to be seen, while urgent cases went to Waikato.”


Trainee Cardiac Sonographer Cat Murphy-Rahal

Trainee Cardiac Sonographer Cat Murphy-Rahal.

The service has been boosted by Cat Murphy-Rahal who is originally from Canada. Cat is a radiographer who is training to be a cardiac sonographer under Tom’s supervision. This requires three years study through the Australian Society for Ultra Sound Medicine. Cat has been in Gisborne just over a year. She married a Gisborne boy and moved to New Zealand nearly ten years ago and is now officially a kiwi..

The sonography team also includes four Gisborne girls who all trained as radiographers and have then completed three years post graduate study. Their focus is ultrasound for babies, muscular skeletal defects, abdominal pain, clots and deep vein thrombosis.