Wednesday, 18 April 2012


18 APRIL, 2012


KEVIN RUDD: As has just been said I am a cardio kid, a heart kid. They think that I contracted rheumatic fever at the age of five. Back in those days, which was back in the 60s, these things often went undetected. As a result, by the age of 11 I discovered that the reason I was coming last in all of the cross countries wasn’t entirely because of a lack of effort on my part but there was something else at work as well. Then I discovered that I did indeed have a damaged aortic valve which in turn had an effect on the functioning of the left ventricle. And that was monitored for years and years and I had my first valve replacement surgery at the age of 33 or 34 and then with barely a word of publicity I managed to have it replaced again last year.


So my first aortic valve replacement was as a result of the huge generosity of an Australian family,  who had donated the aortic valve of a loved one. Most recently I had a replacement from a bovine valve and who knows what lies ahead. We’ll find out hopefully in 20 or so years time.

The reason for saying all that is simple, and that is cardiac disease, cardiovascular disease, and heart disease affects the lives of millions of Australians. Let’s just put this in perspective. Cardiovascular disease today is the single largest killer in Australia. The single largest killer in Australia.

Heart disease, stroke, vascular disease; if you look at cardiovascular disease as a group it affects 3.4 million Australians out of our total population of 22/23 million Australians. It affects 1 in 6 Australians therefore; it affects 2 out of 3 families. One Australian dies every 11 minutes as a result of one form of cardiovascular disease or another.

Go down within that to heart disease itself. That affects just shy of one million Australians, in fact about 800,000. In 2009, it claimed the lives of 22,500 Australians and 1 in 6 of all deaths in that particular year. One Australian dies every 23 minutes from heart disease.

Let’s go down again to how it affects little ones and what we can do today in terms of childhood heart disease. Every day six babies are born with heart defects.

Every day 6 babies are born with one form of heart defect or another. That’s over 2,000 a year and I’ve just been spending a little bit of time with some of those parents and some of those kids just now. And its moving to be just for a little while in the company of a family circle who’s love for the child just radiates and whose sense of gratitude and support for the wonderful work that you as professionals equally radiate. Because if you are going to have childhood heart disease let me tell you Australia is the place to be, Queensland is the place to be, Brisbane is the place to be and that Mater is the place to be. You do great work here.

It’s estimated that 32,000 children under the age of 18 are currently living with CHD that’s childhood heart disease, around Australia. Of course they acquire this disease for a number of reasons. One of which historically has been rheumatic fever, as per myself. Regrettably rheumatic fever still exists in our indigenous communities and it’s still a cause of a large incidence of heart disease amongst aboriginal kids and we need as a national objective to reduce that to zero as we have done for non-indigenous communities. If we are serious about closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians let me tell you getting rid of rheumatic fever is one.

So what about HeartKids itself. HeartKids works to support families who have a child with heart disease. It works to reduce the incidence of childhood heart disease by supporting research. It also directly supports families through employment family support coordinators at the major children’s hospitals throughout Australia. And for families it’s pretty traumatic. Let’s just face it even for grownups like me, although some have contested whether I am fully grown up, if you’re a father of a little one and you see the affect of surgery down the chest of someone so little, so innocent and so vulnerable, it reduces most of us to tears. Because it is so fundamental to a little one’s life. What is wonderful about this photograph here is the smile of the little girl because that is major, and I know I’d describe it as intrusive surgery, and I’ve had a bit to do with it in recent years, and it’s not fun. But let me tell you once you’re through it with the care of professionals, the smile in these eyes is what is produced.

And that is what these folks HeartKids are all about and the work they do is terrific. The fact that these lives are increasingly being saved by advances in medical science and technology and by the sheer skill of the surgery intervention, the skills frankly with a surgical knife of the paediatric cardiology surgeons. And these folk deserve a thousand Nobel Prizes over in terms of the exquisite nature of the work that they do.

So the fact that Heart kids is in the midst of this, making a difference, I simply take off my hat to you all. On a related point, research is critical, I’ve looked at some the research which you’ve supported. There are two or three major research programs under way which you are in fact actively engaged in, one of which involves Dr Gavin Lambert, improving long term survival for patients with a single heart ventricle.

The changes which occur each year in treatment and in the quality of the drugs which are used to support kids coming through these things, is a minor revolution in itself.

When I was first diagnosed with this condition, it was back in the Stone Age.
Today, frankly, it is just light years better.  If I’ve been through two of these things and survived and to be reasonably confident of medicine today, then your kids and you have every reason to feel confident.
Very lastly, one of the things which I’m also associated with is organ donation.  It is also important in terms of whole hearts, also important in terms of tissue as well.  As Prime Minister, one of the things I was very proud of was to have established the Australian National Transplant Authority.  What we have seen over the first two years that it has been fully operational is the donation rate go up by about one third.
This is good.  Do you know something Australia? We can do a heck of a lot better. So when it comes to DonateLife, another great Australian institution, I say to all Australians get out there, go online and make sure you and your family make that commitment.
We still have one of the lower effective donation rates of the world, it’s getting better, but we can do much, much more.
I hope to be saying more on this, in the months ahead, now that I have a bit more free time on my hands.  So with those remarks, can I say to you, who are professionals working in the areas of cardiac specialists, those of you who are particularly passionate for the medical needs of children in this great hospital, the Mater, then I salute what you do.  To you the parents and families, those of you who are patients I salute you as well and with those remarks it gives me great pleasure to launch this video presentation which I hope will raise the consciousness of Australia more importantly get dollars in the pockets for HeartKids so that it can continue it’s great work.


  1. This is one great advocacy. Kudos for that family who gave their loved one's aortic valve. To find replacement for this particular part of the heart is a rare one. May this campaign touch and change many children's lives and hearts!

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