MYSTORY intern shares heart breaking story

26 June 2019

Antonio Afaese (middle) with MYSTORY interns.

Antonio Ameko Tausani Afaese Mataafa, Samoan, aged 16, is a proud Otara resident currently in Year 12 at St Peters College with a love and passion for rugby.

Antonio shared his story at the MYSTORY Summit, which left many participants in tears.

“I still choke up thinking back to the day when I was diagnosed with rheumatic fever,” says Antonio.

“It was late March 2014 after rugby training in the evening. It was a normal evening like any other. The next morning I felt dizzy and all of a sudden my body shut down and I passed out in our family bathroom.”

The family rushed Antonio to his GP, where the ambulance was contacted straight away to take him to Middlemore hospital.

“I was at Middlemore hospital for about three days before I was transferred to Starship Children’s hospital.”

“At the Starship hospital I watched the head doctor speak with my parents and they left the room. When they returned, they broke the news that I had been diagnosed with rheumatic fever.”

“I had no idea what rheumatic fever was. I thought a couple of panadols would sort it out. I was also thinking it must be a type of hayfever.”

“It hit me when the head doctor explained more about exactly what it was and all of a sudden I realised that it’s a matter of life and death.”

Antonio, who was 11 years old at the time, underwentopen heart surgery the next morning, which was successful.

Rheumatic heart disease is rampant among Māori and Pacific children in New Zealand.

A simple streptococcus throat infection can lead to permanent heart defects in children.

“I want to share my story, as it was a difficult time for me and my family. The MYSTORY internship gave me the confidence to tell my story. I was actively involved.”

“The MYSTORY framework helped me gain new skills like conducting workshops and learning more about the facilitator’s role to empower other young people.”

“I am indebted to staff of SouthSeas, and in particular Caleb Va’a for supporting me and providing me and others a safe space to tell our stories and make better choices. Choices that will help me and my family in the future,” says Antonio.

Antonio has an important message to share.

“Make sure you always get a sore throat swabbed and if you find yourself in the same situation as I was, share your story. Together we can help prevent and wipe out the illness through primary prevention.”

About 20 children each year have heart surgery because of the disease and up to 200 people die from rheumatic heart disease each year.

The recent Government budget announcement contributed $12 million from the Wellbeing Budget to support Māori and Pacific communities in combating the preventable disease with their own initiatives.

Rheumatic fever often starts with a sore throat (a streptococcal infection) and a few weeks later a child may develop sore or swollen joints, a skin rash, fever and stomach pain. Without treatment, the strep throat can cause rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever can damage the heart.

Ask your doctor for a copy of a rheumatic fever wallet card or click here to check out the Ministry of Health website for more information.

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