John Pomana and Rheumatic Fever

20 June 2018

Rheumatic Fever Champion

'Papa' John Pomana is a role model to many and has changed the lives of men all around Tairāwhiti, his work with men’s health at Turanga health has made a real difference in our community.

What most people don’t know about ‘Papa John’ is his history with Rheumatic Fever. John was diagnosed when he was 8 years old. John remembers “There were four of us boys in the bath together and when it was time to get out I couldn’t because my knees were so sore and Aunty had to lift me out of the bath and took me to Hospital.”

Until that moment John had lived a normal life, running around Manutuke grabbing pies from Archie Miller’s van. He then spent the next 11 months in hospital, recovering from Rheumatic Fever.

Rheumatic Fever often starts with a sore throat, and is caused by a reaction to a bacterial infection with group A streptococcus (GAS) and the illness targets the heart, joints, brain and skin. Up to 40% of sore throats are caused by this bacteria and if untreated, can lead to acute Rheumatic Fever.

John’s Mum and Dad were shearers and hard workers and he often stayed with his Aunty and Uncle on Stout Street. John says “there were probably 12 children and 2 adults in a 3 bedroom home, although it was a warm house,  it was a state house and there were 3 of us top and tailing in a single bed, so we were always close to each other, making it easier to get sick.”

When asked what advice he would give to other whānau in our community, John said “Always get your children’s sore throat swabbed and take Antibiotics until they are finished. Warm, dry homes are a must and children need to wear warm clothes.

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

If your child has a sore throat, you can take them to your local clinic for a free check and a nurse will see them on the same day. It’s quick and easy. Sore throat bugs (GAS) mainly spread through the 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. If it isn’t, you may qualify to have insulation installed for free. 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.

What happens if my Child gets Rheumatic Fever? 

  • Children who have had rheumatic fever will need to get monthly injections for at least 10 years and may need heart valve replacement surgery.
  • Rheumatic Fever has lifelong consequences for Health
  • 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 
Click here to see a part of the documentary 'Take Heart' about Rheumatic fever in our communities.