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Heart of Australia Gala 2021 Recap

Posted on 8th December 2021

Thank you to those that attended our 2021 Heart of Australia Gala evening on Saturday 18 September. For many of our guests, it was the largest event they had attended since 2019. 

Held at the Royal Brisbane International Convention Centre, the event united our patients, supporters, stakeholders, specialists and staff, who are usually separated by thousands of kilometres.

We were honoured to welcome a host of speakers on the night including Senator Susan McDonald – Special Envoy for Northern Australia, and Arrow Energy’s Vice President of Health, Safety and Environment, Michelle Zaunbrecher. They both shared their support for Heart of Australia from the perspective of their own sectors as they join us in the mission to expand our services.

Heart of Australia’s Director, Dr Rolf Gomes reflected on our rapid growth since 2014 and shared with the audience the future plans for the organisation. By working with a strong team and stakeholders, Queensland communities, from border towns such as Goondiwindi to as far north as Weipa, now have unprecedented access to specialists in their communities.

In the face of a global pandemic, cancelled national expansion plans over the past two years, a team-wide drive to create a better world has allowed Heart of Australia to rise and tackle every challenge set before us.

In his closing comments, Dr Gomes left the medical students in the audience with a message as a reminder for when they find themselves weighed down amid their careers.

“Remember why you did this. To ease suffering and help people, those feelings will help you re-focus,” he said.

“Remember Heart of Australia, the red-dust and road stretching into the horizon, the worn faces, watery eyes, broad-brimmed hats and the calloused hands which you shook. Most of all, remember you’re always welcome back should you wish to be part of this amazing Heart of Australia family, your country needs you.”


The Inaugural Above & Beyond Award

This year, Heart of Australia launched the Above & Beyond Award at the evening. This is awarded to a team member who consistently goes above and beyond what is expected to ensure that the service we deliver is of the highest standard. Dr Gomes was thrilled to award this to Operations and Scheduling Officer, Maria Abrigo.

Since 2014, Maria has been a core part of the HOA team and in her current role, works tirelessly to ensure all our specialists, drivers and medical aides arrive at their destinations ready to service the communities in a professional and efficient manner. Maria is passionate about bringing a high standard of service and care to every person that visits our trucks and HOA was excited to be able to recognise her above and beyond efforts in this way.

Sonya’s story


Watch Sonya’s story in her own words

In one of the most poignant moments of the night, one of our patients, Sonya, shared her story with the audience in a speech that touched everyone who heard it.

Living in the rural community of Cecil Plains, Sonya had a loose heart valve that went untreated for four years. She was sent to Brisbane by her GP to undergo surgery but was then told return home as her case was not deemed urgent enough for surgery. As a single working mother to an energetic daughter, Jasmine, Sonya had to hide her health struggles even though her energy levels were constantly depleted.

It wasn’t until the Heart of Australia HEART Truck visited her community and she was seen by Dr Gomes, that things changed for Sonya. After a consultation with Dr Gomes, it was obvious that Sonya’s condition did require urgent surgery and so a referral was arranged and her long-awaited surgery was fast-tracked.

“I don’t know what he put in that letter, but it’s like he put a rocket up their bum!” Sonya shared in her speech much to amusement of the audience.

Sonya’s procedure was a success and she recovered quickly- she had forgotten what it had felt like to feel so well. Her honest and raw account of her journey back to health touched everyone who heard her story.

Sonya is just one of many patients who have had their lives changed by an appointment on our HEART Trucks. As the HOA service continues to grow, we want to make sure distance will no longer affect the health of those people like Sonya who contribute so much to their own communities.


Next-Gen Medics Program– Heart of Australia, training the future

Creating a new network of doctors and allied health practitioners, with a passion for rural health, was one of the main factors leading to the launch of the HOA NextGen Medics Program in 2020.

Medical student, Grace Mitchell, and Allied Health student, Lavena Wills, both from the 2021 mid-year intake, inspired the audience with their account of how the program helped to expand their understanding and passion for rural medicine.

The gaps in rural healthcare were always apparent to Lavena. Born and raised in Yuggerah and Yugambeh country in south-east Queensland, the Program gave her the opportunity to learn about the challenges that communities in regional Qld have as she embarks on a career as an exercise physiologist.

Her time on the HEART Truck solidified her dream of working in the country and showed her what no lecture or textbook could ever teach.

“That’s the magic of this program – it takes students with an interest in rural health,” she said.

“It inspires them so it becomes their new driving passion. That it’s important, valued, fun and possible.”

For Grace, as a first-year medical student, the experience highlighted for her the challenges faced by rural and remote communities are more than what the statistics and textbook shows, but revealed core needs of these people. The experience also helped her recognise the area of medicine that she would like to focus on in her future career.

“It’s a challenge that I now see myself as part of the solution for,” she said.

Along with the original and mid-2021 cohort, all of the Next-Gen Medics Alumni have completed the program with a renewed passion and respect for country Australia.

Thank you again to those that could join us on the evening. If you couldn’t, we hope that you will in 2022!



SONYA’S HEARTFELT STORY STEALS THE SHOW

Posted on 8th December 2021

Heart of Australia patient Sonya Jenkins captivated the audience at the recent Heart of Australia Gala dinner with her heartfelt and authentic story.

Sonya lives in Cecil Plains, a small town about a 30-minute’s drive south of Dalby, with a population of around 400 people. She credits Heart of Australia with saving her life.

“Before Heart of Australia came into my life, I was in a very dark place.”

“All my life, I had been a hardworking woman – mainly as a house cleaner. I was proud of the work I did to help families run smoothly. I was a single mother to my beautiful daughter Jasmine, and I was incredibly proud to care for her, provide for her, and raise her. But that all changed when I got sick.”

“It started with the flu, but I just didn’t get better. I couldn’t catch my breath, I was always exhausted all the time, and I couldn’t work more than three hours at a time if that.

“When I didn’t get better, I knew something was wrong. I went to my GP in Cecils Plains. They found there was something wrong with my heart valve and said it needed to be fixed straight away. So they sent me to a cardiologist at a major Brisbane hospital.

“The cardiologist there checked me over, said I’d be fine, to go home and that it wasn’t serious… and that I’d pretty much need to have a heart attack before they’d even look at me.”

“I explained that as a single mum who needed to work and care for my daughter, it was serious to me, but they sent me home anyway.”

“I put up with it for about four years, but life was unbearable. I couldn’t hold up a vacuum cleaner, so I couldn’t work. I couldn’t help all the families whose homes I had cleaned for so long. I was really embarrassed and started hiding from people. No one knew I was sick.”

“Because I couldn’t work, I didn’t earn any income. I couldn’t provide for my daughter as an independent woman. That was a low point. Jazzy was only five at the time, but I was so sick I couldn’t give her the love, care and attention I wanted to. She actually became my carer, and she missed out on some of her childhood we can’t ever get back. She took on the parenting role, which is actually something I’m still struggling to take back from her – but that’s a different story.”

“I wanted to get better, so I kept going back to the GP, who kept sending me back to Brisbane. But the cardiologists there kept sending me home. Eventually, I stopped going. It’s a very expensive thing to head to Brisbane. I wasn’t working, and I just couldn’t afford to keep travelling to Brisbane only to be told to go home.”

“It was a very dark time. I couldn’t work; I couldn’t provide or care for my daughter. I couldn’t breathe. I had some very dark thoughts.”

“That’s when Heart of Australia and Dr Gomes came into my life.

“I was visiting my local GP, and the nurse asked me if I’d like her to see if I could visit a cardiologist on the Heart Truck. I’d never heard of it, and it didn’t normally come to Cecils Plains – it’s not on their route, but it was making a special visit. I said yes.”

“I stepped onto the Heart Truck, and I was amazed by how impressive it is. It’s just as good as any clinic I went to in Brisbane – but the people were much nicer. Dr Gomes saw me and immediately told me that something needed to be done.”

“I explained that I had tried to get it fixed and that my GP had tried, but nothing worked. Dr Gomes said he’d write the people in Brisbane a letter. I didn’t expect anything to come out of it because I was just used to the knockbacks and having to fight on the best I could as a mum. I don’t know what he put in that letter, but it was like he put a rocket up their bum.”

“I could not believe the difference it made, but now I know what’s possible when you have a leading specialist in your corner – especially when you live in a tiny country town. Everything changed, and within months, I was in surgery.

“As soon as I woke up after the operation – I knew something was different. I could breathe. It took several weeks to recover properly, but everything had changed. I could work. I could care for my daughter, and I could provide for her. These days I can even work with heavy equipment on a construction site.

“Since getting the surgery, I am me again. The darkness and all the very dark thoughts about being worthless and there being no hope for a future disappeared. And that’s why I need to tell you that Dr Gomes and Heart of Australia not only saved my heart – they truly saved my life.

“I would also like to thank Arrow Energy who, as Foundation Partner of Heart of Australia, make all of these services possible. Thank you so much!”

You can watch Sonya’s speech in full here.