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3 December, 2020

Critical bush service celebrates milestone

THE life-saving service, Heart of Australia, has recently celebrated delivering 1500 clinics to Queensland’s rural, regional and remote communities.


THE life-saving service, Heart of Australia, has recently celebrated delivering 1500 clinics to Queensland’s rural, regional and remote communities.

Since operations started in 2014, Heart of Australia has delivered over 1500 clinics, seen over 8000 patients, and helped to save over 350 lives.

To recognise this exciting milestone, Dr Gomes met up with patient Anthony (Tony) Beattie and his wife Carolyn.

Tony’s check up with Dr Gomes in Dalby three months ago resulted in life-saving open-heart surgery, from which he is now recovering.

Dr Gomes said Tony’s story was a reminder of the life-saving impact the service delivers.

“The individual stories like Tony’s are what makes Heart of Australia so special and highlights how we can mobilise medicine for those in rural, regional and remote areas of Australia,” said Dr Gomes.

“What started as a dream, supported by a small band of people who took a chance in 2014, has flourished into a model of mobile medical service delivery that is demonstrated to perform, and is ready to scale.”

“We measure our impact in terms of lives saved, and the quality of the lives improved. It gives our team so much pleasure to see the progress made by returning patients, knowing our intervention has helped that person’s quality of life.”

THE TRIPLE BYPASS

When asked what impact the Heart of Australia service has had in his life, patient Tony Beattie doesn’t mince his words.

“I’m alive. That’s the impact. If it weren’t for Heart of Australia, I wouldn’t be here,” Tony said.

A few months ago, Tony received a call from Kat, a member of the Heart of Australia bookings team, reminding him he was due for his two-yearly check-up. When asked if he’d been planning to schedule his check-up before receiving the reminder call, Tony replied, “hell no.”

“It wasn’t on my radar at all. There are so many other things you’re thinking about, all the other responsibilities you have. I would not have even thought about it until the call came in.”

As it turns out, it was a check-up Tony could not afford to miss.

“At the time, I was experiencing some shortness of breath. But my GP and I both associated it with a car crash I had several years ago. I was about to see a lung specialist, but then COVID hit, and the city specialist stopped seeing patients,” he said.

“When Kat called she said Heart of Australia was taking all the precautions necessary so they could keep seeing patients despite COVID, that my check-up was important, and that the truck would be just an hour and a half away in Dalby. My wife Carolyn and I decided it was important and close enough to home that we could get it done in three or four hours.”

“When I arrived for my check-up with Dr Gomes, he put me on the treadmill for the stress test. I’d been walking for less than a minute when I started having trouble breathing. He stopped me, said it wasn’t looking good and moving over to the ultrasound he found further complications.

“Dr Gomes told us he had detected a significant cardiac issue. We were utterly taken aback, and not sure what we were going to need to do – especially given Queensland was in COVID lockdowns, with all but category-one patients having their procedures cancelled and rescheduled. We didn’t need to worry though – Dr Gomes organised the lot.

“He made a few calls and organised for me to have an angiogram in Brisbane within days. I think that’s a major bonus of the Heart of Australia service not everyone knows about. The doctors who come out are at the top of their game. They’re well respected and have a great network of colleagues from their city practices, so they can call on those networks when their patients need urgent help.

“I had the angiogram on Friday, and first thing Monday morning I was in surgery having triple bypass surgery. They said the blockage could have killed me at any time – finding out I needed surgery, and getting it done quickly saved my life.

Tony’s wife Carolyn said it is essential for people to understand the difference that the Heart of Australia service has in the lives of people living in rural and remote Queensland.

“Heart of Australia is saving lives – just like it saved Tony’s. The team are detecting conditions earlier, which helps people to get treatment, live longer and live healthier,” she said.

“But it’s also helping people to stay in the bush they love for longer. Everyone out here knows that if you become seriously ill, it is incredibly difficult to access the services you need close to home without relocating, even temporarily. But when you have specialists come to you, a reasonable driving distance from your home or property you can stay on the land and in the community with the people you love for longer. That’s life-changing.

“Then there’s the quality of the service. The mobile clinics are state of the art, the equipment is as good or better than what you get in the city, the doctors are top professionals, and on top of this you get to sit down and talk to someone like you’re a real person.”

Tony said his story could very easily have had a very different end.

“People need to understand that distance is a real deterrent to seeking medical attention. If I’d needed to travel to Brisbane or even Toowoomba for that check-up, I wouldn’t have made the trip. It would have required me to be away from the farm for three or four days when just one day away is a big deal.”

OVERCOMING DISTANCE

Before Heart of Australia travelled to Blackall, Lindsay MacDonald and her husband Nigel had to travel over 600 kilometres to Roma so Nigel could visit a travelling specialist.

With kangaroos making night travel hazardous, a 15-minute consultation with a specialist quickly turned into a two-day event. Three days if the appointment was in the afternoon.

According to Lindsay, this all changed when Heart of Australia expanded its route to include Blackall.

“I first heard about Heart of Australia from a friend almost five years ago. It had just started its operations, visiting a handful of towns. We immediately knew what a huge impact that kind of service might have, not just in our lives, but for everyone in our community, so we crossed our fingers and hoped that one day Heart of Australia would come to Blackall,” Lindsay said.

“So, when we heard the Heart Truck was on its way, we were overjoyed. We knew it was going to change the lives of so many people in our community.”

Lindsay said as challenging as it was for Nigel and herself to make the three-day trips to access the services he needed, they counted themselves as the lucky ones.

“You need to understand that life out here is so different from life in a big city. We have diverse needs, diverse challenges, and diverse responsibilities. Nigel and I were lucky enough to be in a position where we could make the three-day trip when we had to. It wasn’t ideal. It was very challenging, but we could do it. But we know people who couldn’t do it. So they didn’t. And that’s scary.”

Lindsay recently wrote to the Heart of Australia team to thank them for their service, and their ability to understand and be flexible in responding to the unique challenges for rural life.

“The staff and facilities on board are second to none. It’s a better service then you’d get at most stationary clinics. The team always go above and beyond, all while being very welcoming. We get helped in and out of the truck using their wheelchair system and are always taken care of,” she said.

“Nothing is ever an issue with Heart of Australia. When we explained that a testing appointment in the afternoon would impact our ability to drive home on isolated dirt roads safely, they immediately changed around their schedule to respond to our needs. They understand that rural life has its hurdles and are quick to accommodate.

“My husband Nigel has been on our property his whole life. It’s 22,000 acres of sheep, cattle and a whole lot of dirt about an hour from Blackall. We love it. We love the land, and we love the community. We wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, and Heart of Australia is helping us to stay here and stay healthy,” Lindsay said.

MAJOR MILESTONE

Dr Gomes created Heart of Australia’s concept in response to his time as a junior doctor in rural Queensland, where specialist medical services were almost non-existent.

“I saw people who either had to travel hundreds of kilometres on their GP’s recommendation for a specialist diagnosis or trust to luck that nothing was seriously wrong with them,” Dr Gomes said.

“This option is one of the core reasons that country people have a higher rate of death than their city counterparts, and it drove me to think about what I could do to address this inequity.”

The journey to this 1500th clinic milestone has seen many advances and expansions to the services offered.

“Our first clinics offered mobile cardiology and respiratory medicine services. We quickly confirmed that our model for mobilising specialist services worked and expanded the range of specialist services available at our clinics. Additional speciality services now available include endocrinology, gastroenterology, gynaecology, neurology, psychology, geriatrics, and sleep medicine,” Dr Gomes said.

“We have developed and delivered a model of mobile medicine that works for rural, regional and remote communities. We’ve made a significant difference in the lives of the communities we have served with our first 1500 clinics. We’re excited to see what we can achieve with the next 1500.”

Heart of Australia provides specialist medical services including cardiology and respiratory medicine, so you will need a referral from your GP to make an appointment. Once you have a referral from your GP, call (07) 3162 5310 or email reception@heartofaustralia.com

For more information about the Heart of Australia, visit www.heartofaustralia.com.


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