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Student hopeful of heart disease program benefits

An American student, who is in Samoa with a group of heart specialists, is hopeful their program will enable Samoans to know the causes of rheumatic heart disease and learn how to prevent it.

Twenty-three-year-old Thomas Knapp, who attends the Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah, will primarily be screening students in schools on both Upolu and Savai'i for rheumatic heart disease.

But they also plan to educate Samoans on how to recognise the disease and to act quickly when there is a positive diagnosis, with Mr. Knapp saying rheumatic heart disease is caused by a throat infection.

“Rheumatic heart disease is caused by getting a strep throat infection caused by a bacterial infection if left untreated your body starts to have an immune response that starts to attack your own body tissues especially your heart.

“The heart valves become leaky – blood is not pumped properly, you get fatigued and eventually cause death if left untreated - if you develop rheumatic heart disease you might need surgery and that surgery can sometimes become very risky itself," he said.

The best advice one can give, according to the American student, is to see a doctor and getting treated after a diagnosis. 

“The best thing you should do is that if you feel you're getting symptoms of fever – you see, what happens first is you get rheumatic fever which feels like a normal fever like your body feels hot, achy joints the best thing for children to do is to see the doctor and upon the doctor's assessment whether they should get a penicillin shot because if you get a penicillin shot - it will prevent you from developing any other severe symptoms later on."

Mr. Knapp said rheumatic heart disease affects a lot of children, which is one of their core focus and to assist the children and their parents understand how serious it is. 

“The role of us students from our group is to help the cardiologists and echo sonographers to set up what they do to screen and we also help them communicate with the students, parents, and help educate the children.

“I have been a student at BYU for three years majoring in Biology so pre-medical and this is my second time coming to Samoa as part of the rheumatic relief programme.

“My main objective for this year's trip is to get in touch with as many people as we can whether it is someone on the street spread the word about our mission and hopefully that can save lives,” he added.

He also said that the work their team does in Samoa is priceless in terms of its significance to the Samoan people.

“The knowledge that the doctors bring in reference to the cardiologists are the best in the world and so having that knowledge not only help the students but also put into perspective the importance of what preventative medicine is - it is more about getting in front of the disease rather than reacting to it after they get it.

“So far, from the previous year I was here, I learnt that the most significant point we want to get across is to connect with the people on a cultural or personal basis - for me, it is about becoming one with the people that you are trying to influence.”

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