Deadly Heart Trek: The Mission To Eliminate Rheumatic Heart Disease In Remote Australia


Two young Australians tragically pass away every week due to difficulties from Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD). Despite being almost non-existent in most of Australia, this disease continues to run rampant amongst First Nations children living in the remote northern and central parts of our country due to inadequate access to social, educational and health resources. That’s where Deadly Heart Trek comes in. Their mission is to unite Australia in eliminating RHD by 2030, travelling to vulnerable communities to raise awareness and treat instances of the disease.

What Is Rheumatic Heart Disease?

Rheumatic Heart Disease is a preventable heart condition caused by damage to the four small heart valves. It is brought on by acute rheumatic fever, which itself is caused by a skin or throat infection that can lead to inflammation and permanent scarring of parts of the heart if untreated. The result is an interrupted blood flow, meaning the heart can’t operate adequately.

What Is The Deadly Heart Trek?

The origins of the Deadly Heart Trek began in early 2021 with leading cardiologists Dr Bo Remenyi and Dr Gavin Wheaton. After decades of first-hand experience seeing the growing burden of RHD on children in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, they decided it was time to act.

It was then, during a long discussion over dinner one night, that they came up with the Deadly Heart Trek. Their plan involved having a team of health workers who could be invited into remote communities to scan, diagnose, and treat RHD before it progressed to needing heart surgery. Moreover, with the help of First Nations leaders, they would also seek to build a better understanding for community-led and political actions to raise awareness of RHD across the nation. After gathering a group of like-minded individuals from other organisations, experienced doctors, local health workers and Aboriginal leaders, the stage was set to begin their journey.

The Deadly Heart Trek’s Progress

Despite delays related to the pandemic in 2021, the Deadly Heart Trek is still making great strides in completing its mission. To date, they have visited nine communities in the Northern Territory and five communities in Queensland. More recently, two experienced teams of 8 finished visiting 22 communities in Central Australia in April. In the Northern Territory, the Trek saw great results and positive community responses. Some highlights include:

  • 873 children’s hearts were screened by cardiologists and skin checked.
  • 26 new cases of RHD diagnosed and treated.
  • 3000 children and families educated on RHD and skin.

This success was furthered in the Queensland Trek, which also saw positive community feedback and results, including:

  • 978 children’s hearts being screened.
  • 31 new cases of RHD diagnosed and treated.
  • 2500 children and families educated on RHD and skin.

In conjunction with these results, the government has also committed to ending RHD by 2030, doubling the funding required from $6 million to $13.5 million nationally.

HeartKids Commitment To Ending RHD

HeartKids is the only national not-for-profit charity dedicated to supporting children, teens and adults affected by congenital heart disease (CHD) or heart disease acquired during childhood across Australia. In 2023, our goal is to increase access to our support services and programs across Australia, with a focus on those living in regional and isolated communities.

As a proud sponsor of the Deadly Heart Trek, we are extremely happy for the team and remain committed to supporting their mission. The trek has allowed us to make a real impact in helping people living with RHD and their families in regional communities. HeartKids provides support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families affected by Rheumatic Heart Disease or Congenital Heart Disease during hospital stays and at home in the community, working alongside hospital paediatric cardiology clinics and partner organisations.

Watch this video to learn more about the Deadly Heart Trek.


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