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Posted on 29th April 2021

A new era is being heralded for life-saving specialist medical services in rural and remote Queensland with the launch of a custom-built mobile medical clinic servicing towns from the Mackay region to Cape York Peninsula.

Heart of Australia’s new truck, dubbed HEART 4, will see specialists from all over the country unite to give residents in Sarina, Proserpine, Ayr, and Cooktown access to cardiology, sonography, cardiac monitoring, sleep diagnostics and respiratory services. New towns and services will be added as demand dictates.

The Australian Government is investing $12 million to support and expand the Heart of Australia program, including the delivery of the service’s fourth mobile medical clinic to access the new route across northern Queensland.

Federal Minister for Regional Health, Mark Coulton said the Government’s support represents a significant boost to Heart of Australia, ensuring it continues to provide high-quality healthcare to some of the nation’s most isolated communities.

“Bringing specialist services to the rural and remote areas means improving access for Queenslanders in these communities, many of whom face significant distances to get the health care they need,” Minister Coulton said.

“I am excited to see HEART 4 hit the road, and I’m sure the Northern communities to which its headed look forward to it arriving in their town soon.”

Foundation partner Arrow Energy’s Vice President External Relations and Tenure Management, Leisa Elder said Heart of Australia is saving lives by addressing an imbalance experienced by people in the bush.

“Arrow Energy is proud to have supported Heart of Australia from its inception seven years ago and today’s expansion represents a great step forward with more patients granted access to high-quality healthcare in some of the most remote areas of Queensland,” Ms Elder said.

Since launching its first truck in 2014, Heart of Australia has travelled more than 500,000 kilometres, seen more than 11,000 patients, and saved more than 400 lives as it aims to close the gap between healthcare services available to people in the city and those living in the bush. Heart of Australia Founder and cardiologist, Dr Rolf Gomes mortgaged his home to build the first truck seven years ago.

“We are very excited the Federal Government partnership allows us to build this fourth truck and open a new route. It means we are now servicing patients from Stanthorpe in southern Queensland to Weipa in the far north. We know we’ve helped saved lives and with HEART 4 we will be able to save even more. It’s a step towards making sure country Australians have the same chance of a long and healthy life through better access to healthcare,“ Dr Gomes said.

The launch of HEART 4 is an important next step in Heart of Australia’s goal to break borders and provide mobile medical services across the country.

Specialist Spotlight: Dr Alexander Dashwood

Posted on 12th February 2021

Dr Alexander Dashwood has always had an interest in the rural communities of Australia. He previously worked with the indigenous cardiac outreach programme and thought this initiative was the perfect way to give back to the rural communities and to improve cardiac health to those living in rural and remote communities.  

So when he first discovered the Heart of Australia program, he thought it was the perfect fit for him. Dr Dashwood enjoys working with patients cut from a different cloth to those living in metropolitan areas. He says “Despite having chest pain, many patients will be out on their ten thousand acre properties locating cattle rather than finding a resolution for their ailments.”

Dr Dashwood recalls one patient who was a sheep sheerer. He was experiencing worsening exertional chest pain which had developed over two weeks.  After much convincing by his daughter, he decided to see a cardiologist. 

After explaining his symptoms to Dr Dashwood, the patient underwent an exercise stress echocardiogram revealing extensive inducible ischemia. Inducible ischemia is the presence of abnormalities in the heart during exercise, however not at rest. Due to the acute history and echo findings, Dr Dashwood instructed the patient to travel to Brisbane on the same flight as him that afternoon rather than his original plan; to drive 700kms into central Queensland to sheer 400 sheep the next day. Fortunately he agreed and a stent was deployed into one of the main coronary arteries the next morning. 

Another patient was experiencing shortness of breath for over a year. She thought it was time to visit her GP after she was unable to walk further than 15 metres while doing her grocery shopping. She received a referral to Heart of Australia and booked an appointment. During her visit an echocardiogram revealed a severely enlarged right ventricle with severe tricuspid regurgitation and a right ventricular systolic pressure (RVSP) of >90mmHg. The standard RVSP rate is 12-16mmHg. 

Dr Dashwood was able to organise an urgent admission to The Prince Charles Hospital with rural liaison officers. Dr Dashwood says “We got the specialised pulmonary HTN team involved and started her on special access medication. She can now walk to the shops and has a great quality of life.”

In 2021 Dr Dashwood’s role with Heart of Australia is expanding. While being one of the much loved cardiologists, he will also be the primary contact for all Heart of Australia medical specialists as well as manage the educational programs. Dr Dashwood’s skills and experience are imperative to the Heart of Australia program, and to those living in rural and remote communities.