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Matter of the heart

Torika Tokalau
Tuesday, June 03, 2014

ILAITIA Tukana was eight years old when he found out that he had rheumatic heart disease.

Now 22, the final year software engineering student at USP said he went to hospital in 2009 after he developed locked joints on his body.

"I was admitted and they told me that I had RHD," Ilaitia said.

From then he had to take an injection every three weeks and this became be a normal part of his life.

When he turned 18, Ilaitia was told he only had a year or two to live.

"They told me I had to undergo a secondary treatment, a valve replacement surgery.

"I was shocked because when they said surgery, I knew my hopes of a career and my hopes of taking part in physical activities would now be restrained."

Four years on and Ilaitia now lives a normal life.

The surgery did not restrain him from physical activities like he thought nor did it stop him from achieving his goals.

His condition requires him to take his medication and attend a clinic every three months, injection every three weeks and a specific dose of tablets every day.

"The barrier though is with my friends.

"I do not want them to know that I have RHD and especially that I had surgery because I know they would treat me differently. They would take it easy on me when we play touch rugby and other sports.

"I still play touch rugby but I am careful not to play in contact sports. RHD has not restricted me from living."

His advice to parents is to take sore throats seriously if their children complain.

"One thing we grew up with is that whenever a child gets sick, parents give them panadol.

"Sore throats are a serious thing. If you have a child with a sore throat please take them immediately to the hospital because it can lead to something more serious that might kill them.

"And also to those living with RHD, please follow the doctors instructions. I am very happy that I am still alive. And I am pretty lucky to be a part of this awareness week so I can tell everyone to watch out for sore throats."

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