The travels of South Australian HeartKids and their mums

Image source: Child Safety Network

By Shannon Chamberlain.

“A gentle heart is tied with an easy thread.”— George Herbert, British poet

Every day in Australia, eight babies are born with heart defects.

And to make matters worse, Adelaide stopped offering major Childhood Heart Disease surgery in the early 2000s.

HeartKids SA/NT director, Maryanne Noone says, on average, two to three families every week have to travel from the Flinders Medical Centre and the Women’s and Children’s Hospital to Melbourne for life-saving heart surgery.

Maryanne says, “From the outset, families experience greater inequalities in managing their child’s heart disease than other Australians”.

“In some instances, depending on the severity of the case, the family can be given just a few hours notice.

“Relocation to Melbourne can be anywhere from a two-week period up to many months at a time.”

This is what happened to 28-year-old Jennifer Mundy and 27-year-old Mel Giardina, who both dropped everything to fly to the Royal Children’s Hospital.

Jennifer was a dental assistant working in Brighton before she gave birth and is set to returning to work next month.

Jennifer gave birth to her beautiful daughter Lara in the Women’s and Children’s Hospital on 30 October last year.

“My pregnancy went all fine and my labour was relatively easy and I did it naturally with no drugs or anything,” Jennifer says.

It was weeks after Lara was born that Jennifer and her 29-year-old partner Michael Dart learned Lara was a HeartKid.

“We didn’t actually find out until she was about three weeks old and we took her to the GP because she got oral flush,” Jennifer says.

“They noticed a bit of a heart murmur so they sent us to go and see a specialist.

“She had the coarctation of the aorta, which is basically that the area of the aorta that goes down to feed her lower organs and legs has a narrow section and therefore the blood couldn’t flow properly.

“I was devastated, I was speechless, my partner pretty much had to take over everything because I was just a blubbering mess.”

Jennifer and Lara flew over with the Royal Flying Doctor Service and Michael took a normal flight to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne for the surgery, which took place around a month after she was born.

They were offered a room at the Ronald McDonald House but decided against it: choosing to stay at the hotel inside the hospital instead.

“The biggest thing for me was to be as close as I could be to my little baby”.

The successful procedure lasted about five hours.

“When she came out of the surgery she was in the intensive care unit for about three days.

“They just observed and they took her off of the medications… and made sure everything was working okay.”

Lara is now a happy, healthy seven-month-old baby. Jennifer says, “The issue with the aorta has been fixed but she will have to be monitored for the rest of her life to make sure as she gets older that she doesn’t need secondary surgery or anything… she’s able to live a completely normal life.”

Jennifer was happy with the amount of support she received during this time and that she didn’t mind having to travel to Melbourne for specialist care.

“HeartKids were amazing,” she says.

“They provided us with food vouchers, they helped organise all of our flights and accommodation, they gave us taxi vouchers so that we didn’t have to worry about paying for our trips to the airport and back… they gave like a backpack that had just like little supplies that you might need.

“It would be nice if the equipment was here but I was happy to go wherever we needed to help my little girl.”

Mel Giardina’s beautiful girl was also born with a heart defect.

Her three-year-old daughter, Mia was born a HeartKid on 26 November 2014 at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

Mel says, “When I gave birth to Mia she came out a bit blue so they took her into the Emergency Care Unit for a short amount of time then brought her back to me a couple of hours later.”

“I didn’t think very much of it at the time.”

It was two days later when Mel began to realise that something was wrong with her baby.

“I had been craving Red Bull but I was not really wanting to affect the pregnancy so I never took it.

“…I didn’t read on the back of the can when I took my first swig out of it because I was breastfeeding Mia at the time.

“All of a sudden, she just screamed out of nowhere and it was just a horrible cry and I will never be able to forget it.

“I was literally freaking out because I read the back of the can straight after and I thought maybe the Red Bull was racing her heart so I thought it was my fault.

“So, the nurses came and they checked her and overall she was fine.

“They put a stethoscope to her heart and found a slight murmur which was the reason for the cry,” she says.

It was a week or two later that multiple x-rays, blood tests and a MRI revealed Mia had multiple heart defects.

Mel says, “She ended up being diagnosed with Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD), Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) and Pulmonary Valve Stenosis (PVS).”

Despite originally showing signs of being cheerful and well, Mia progressively got worse while she waited three months for her surgery.

“She was on breastfeeding every hour and then the gastric tube every three hours for formula to try and make her gain weight so she could go into surgery.

“In that process, she caught pneumonia and she also caught Rhino virus.

“It’s like a common cold but for babies because they don’t breathe very well and they can’t move their necks so she actually had a lot of breathing difficulties.”

Mia also caught gastro while she was waiting for surgery, so the date was urgently brought forward.

“I lost a lot of friends because I wasn’t able to have anybody over because I was so paranoid about her just dying on me because if she caught any common cold she wouldn’t be able to fight it,” Mel says.

Baby Lara was registered as a HeartKid and sent storybooks and information for social events.

Mel also received help from the Ronald McDonald House, which provided her with free accommodation and the Royal Flying Doctor Service who paid for her flights.

“Melbourne did a really good job… they put up accommodation, they paid for the flights, they made me feel welcome, it was a really good environment,” Mel says.

Jennifer and Mel say no HeartKid mum will ever need to travel the long and difficult journey alone.

Community Health

Sweaty salutations, from the Sunday Mail City–Bay Fun Run

Image source: The Advertiser

By Chloe Szentpeteri

As Sunday, September 17 dawned, runners were rising early to compete in Adelaide’s annual Sunday Mail City–Bay event.

The morning was set for sun and sweat as competitors gave it their all in a bid to reach the finish line first, choosing to walk or run either three, six or 12 kilometre distances.

From the siren start right up until a cheering finale, competitors crossed the line with a smile, with participants ranging from young to old and wheelchairs flying fast with a breezy tailwind.

Although Olympians Brett Robinson and Jess Trengove, from SA, won first place for best male and female recorded times, all competitors came out winners and the event appeared to run without issue.

For regular runner Damien Henshave, it’s all about getting out in the community and giving it his all.

“The City–Bay is a good social run – I’ve done the 12km run ten times before and I run all year round,” the 40-year-old said.

“Today I did 56’30 [fifty-six minutes and thirty seconds] which isn’t my best, but it’s close to it.”

Spectator Lisa McNeil, 23, said she attends the event annually to support friends and family on their fitness journey, while occasionally participating herself.

“I’m a personal trainer, so it’s great to see clients pushing themselves and trying for new bests as they set themselves new goals,” she says.

“When I’m not watching friends or family running the race, I’ll sweat it out on the track myself.

“Either way it’s enjoyable and you couldn’t ask for a better day for it.”

Whether it be for the exercise, community involvement or for a charity, the walkers and runners of the event certainly sweat it out, with some opting to wear dinosaur suits, pushing beer keg props or dressing as superheroes.

However, the future of the Sunday Mail City–Bay Fun Run will be reassessed due to a decline in participants over the last few years.

The 2017 results will not be printed in The Advertiser this year, so check out for the full listing of competitors and corresponding results.



Community Health

Batyr provide free barbeque at UniSA campuses to encourage students to speak out about their mental health on R U OK? Day

Image source:

By Sam Aebi 

Youth mental health awareness organisation Batyr hosted free barbeques for students at all UniSA campuses on R U OK? Day.

The organisation, which has reached over 70,000 young people through their programs, provided free food for students at the Mawson Lakes, Magill, City East and West UniSA campuses on Thursday.

Students could enjoy a sausage or veggie patty in bread among the company of fellow students and volunteers for Batyr.

Through the free barbeques, the organisation’s aim is to let students know of their presence as a group focussing on ill mental health amongst youth and university students.

The decision to host these barbeques on R U OK? Day meant that students who weren’t okay could approach Batyr and find out what they can do in regards to speaking out about their mental health.

Carly Sare, Batyr’s UniSA Program Manager, discussed how the organisation has goals towards building a stronger and more open community at UniSA campuses.

“Batyr are really about raising awareness. R U OK? Day is quite a familiar campaign but we want to raise awareness of what that looks like on our campus, in our community,” Ms Sare said.

“We’re part of the greater student wellbeing action plan here at UniSA and our goals are to basically smash the stigma around mental ill health and to increase help-seeking behaviour among students.”

Students appeared by the dozen to grab a free lunch and learn about Batyr or talk to someone about how they were feeling.

UniSA journalism student Georgia Lake said, “I think it’s excellent that we’re raising awareness for something that is so important, especially for university students.”

“So many people go through mental illnesses throughout uni and they feel like they can’t talk about it but through events like this we can grow and become closer by talking to each other.”

“I think having a free barbeque like this gets people coming out and supporting a good cause so I’m all for it. I’m not just here for a free lunch,” Patrick Jackson, a UniSA communication and media student, said.

The barbeques proved popular and brought students together to discuss something that people generally keep to themselves.

“Ultimately, we just love to see a culture on campus where everyone’s more connected and more inclusive. Students can know that it’s okay not to be okay and they know where to reach out for help when they need it,” Ms Sare said.

“I think that that’s what these events do, they help to bring that in and normalise it for the community and that’s what I really want to see.”

Remember, it’s always important to ask someone “R U OK?” and it’s always okay to talk to someone about how you’re feeling.

For more information on R U OK? Day visit:

For more information on how to maintain your mental health while studying, visit Batyr’s website:

If you are struggling with your mental health and want someone to talk to, contact UniSA counselling on 1300 301 703 or Headspace on 1800 650 890.

Health Mental Health News UniSA

Mental health among uni students hits new lows

By Emily Cosenza, Alyssa McKellar and Emma Warren.

A study by mental health foundation, Headspace, has found that around 80 per cent of students feel anxiety, and a lack of energy and motivation.

The study, which asked students about the previous 12 months, also found that one in three students thought about self-harm or suicide and one in two experienced panic.

21-year-old Alyce, who was diagnosed with depression while completing her Honours degree, said she was not surprised by the findings.

“In the final year of my degree, I was really apathetic towards my studies,” Alyce said.

“One day I was driving to uni and I just started to have a breakdown. So I pulled over, took a minute, then drove home.

“Students who battle with mental health issues deal with the increased pressure of trying to find help.

“It adds so much pressure because you can feel that something is wrong, but you’re too stressed or busy, so it just manifests until you self-destruct.

“Depression is a bitch, because some days I feel really normal – not happy exactly – but when it hits, most the time without any trigger, it makes you feel awful.”

“Any hope of studying that day has gone out the window because I have to slowly pick myself back up.”

Counsellor at the University of South Australia, Nikki Kenney, said an internal university study found one in four students struggled with their mental health.

She said a lack of government funding could be a cause behind the alarmingly high figures.

“Money always has and always is going to be a large problem,” Ms Kenney said.

“The government is continually cutting funds to go towards our services, in all universities and schools across the country.

“This is a big-person political problem that is definitely causing us grief and preventing us from providing the absolute best services possible.”

Without enough funding, the University of South Australia (UniSA) cannot provide extensive counselling services to their students.

“There is only the equivalent of 7.6 full-time counsellors across UniSA’s four campuses,” Ms Kenney said.

“That’s 7.6 people to look over 30,000 students. It’s just impractical.”

The University of Adelaide has six counsellors, and Flinders University has seven.

With the Federal Government planning to cut $2.8 billion from university funding in the 2017 Budget, there are concerns that adequate counselling support for students will further diminish.

UniSA’s counselling services are free, but have a month-long wait for an appointment.

“It is concerning to us that there is that long of a wait,” Ms Kenney said.

“However, if a student is in urgent need to see a counsellor, we are more than happy to squeeze them in where we can or keep our doors open later than usual.”

Some students were unaware there was a counselling service.

“The fact I went to uni for four years and never knew there was a counselling service says a lot,” one student said.

Mitchell, 27, also suffered from depression throughout his studies.

“It began in high school, but increased while in tertiary education,” he said.

“It wasn’t until university when I had four exams every six months, and I was working every night to pay for my social life, bills and my car, that it started becoming too much.”

Both Mitchell and Alyce agreed that, while mental health was more openly discussed, a stigma was still associated.

“It’s not something I openly talk about,” Mitchell said.

“Very few friends or even family members know of my battle with depression.

“I don’t want people thinking they need to be careful around me, worry about me, or even pity me.

“I just want people to think and treat me as normal, which is why I think people keep it so private.”

Psychologist Enza Belperio said the pressure to achieve high marks, combined with financial pressures, social and family factors, contributed to poor mental health among university students.

“In balancing all these things, it doesn’t surprise me that uni students who are continually dealing with a variety of stresses are vulnerable to developing a mental disorder,” Belperio said.

“Especially if they haven’t got the skills, coping mechanisms or some sort of knowledge to how they gained that.”

Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, also released a report saying many students did not disclose or seek support for mental health issues.

The report said Australia was falling behind in comparison to the UK, USA and Canada in providing mental health promotion, early intervention and support to young people.

Carly Sare, from mental health organisation Batyr, said there was a need for a national discussion on mental health.

“There’s a lack of consensus nationally with universities,” Ms Sare said.

“In other areas to do with wellbeing, for example, the ‘Respect Now Always’ campaign and sexual harassment, there’s a collaborative movement and the Government is getting involved.

“But that’s still non-existent with mental health.

“The most important thing for the mental wellbeing of students is connection.

“If we’re connected to each other, we know just how therapeutic that is to share with someone else.

“It’s having support as well as realising that it’s not abnormal and we’re all going through these things.

“Just even having that shared experience can kind of validate that experience that shows that you’re not alone with this.

“What changes stigma is people are having these conversations.

“We need to be able to start having conversations that normalises it.”

Batyr have recently partnered with UniSA as part of the University’s Wellbeing plan, which aims to build a safer, more connected community.

“Within Batyr, there’s two main goals: to raise awareness around mental health and to smash the stigma,” Ms Sare said.

“We show the services that can help you within university, on campus and within the broader community, and we encourage people to reach out to them.

“Our ultimate goal is to create a university culture where it’s okay to not be okay.”

Students can seek help from sources such as Lifeline, which has support available 24/7.

Volunteer counsellor at Lifeline, Costanza Furlan, said many students do seek help from their services.

“When it’s exam time or just before holidays when results come out, there is an influx of calls because of high stress levels,” Furlan said.

“Our calls always end with ‘you can call this number 24/7’ so people know that we are always available to help them.”

If you are struggling and need help, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Headspace on 1800 650 890.

Alternatively, see your GP, or head to Batyr on Facebook for information on how you can prioritise your mental health while studying.

Health Mental Health News

One talk at a time: combating the mental ill-health of young men

Image source: Headspace

By Dante DeBono

National Youth Mental Health Foundation, Headspace, has launched a campaign encouraging fathers to talk about mental health with their sons.

The campaign advises fathers about how to recognise the warning signs of mental health issues and how to support their child through difficult times.

It also raises awareness of the services and resources Headspace provide, both online and at their centres.

Headspace CEO Jason Trethowan said fathers can play a vital role in helping their sons get the support they need, but are often unsure how to start the conversation.

“In past generations men were sometimes reluctant to open up about mental health issues, but with the services and support available today we should be able to change that,” he said.

Government statistics indicate only 13 per cent of young men with mental health difficulties aged between 16 and 24 actively seek help, compared to 31 per cent of young women.

Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, recently released a report addressing the state of mental health care for young men in Australia.

The report listed key issues contributing to the mental ill-health of young men, including failure to recognise symptoms, pressure to maintain perceived masculine norms, and underdiagnosis of depression.

Dr Andrea Fogarty, a Research Fellow at Black Dog Institute and contributor to the report, said the findings show young men’s mental health needs are not being met.

“It is crucial to realise mental ill-health often manifests in young men through risk-taking, anger, and substance abuse,” she said.

“By teaching those around young men to look out for such warning signs, we can better focus our efforts in engaging them before these patterns become firmly entrenched into adulthood,” Dr Fogarty said.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics more than a quarter of young people currently have a diagnosable mental health condition, with suicide accounting for one-third of deaths in this demographic.

Research conducted by Orygen indicates that suicide rates among young Australians are at their highest in 10 years and are continuing to rise despite decades of prevention strategies and government funding.

In the last Federal Budget, $80 million was allocated to community mental health services to assist people with severe mental illnesses.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt also announced a grant of $52.7 million for a new mental health in education program, aimed at providing young Australians with support and knowledge about mental health.

This initiative, developed in partnership by beyondblue and Headspace, focuses on the critical opportunity for early intervention and prevention during formative childhood years.

The report from Orygen also recommends providing national leadership and coordination, further utilisation of technology, and improving regional services.

“There is a clear need to identify new avenues for support outside of existing channels, which take on board young men’s own preferences about the kind of care they need,” Dr Fogarty said.

The Fathers Campaign is just one way Australians can address the mental health needs of young people, working towards removing the stigma surrounding mental illness and ultimately saving lives.

For more information visit

If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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