Sharing a heartbeat: a film on rheumatic heart disease in pregnancy

  • Young man and woman

Actors Rebekka Rogers and Jacob Mcadam Roberts from Sharing a heartbeat.

A new film written and directed by a group of Northern Territory Aboriginal women follows the story of Tess, a young woman whose boyfriend, Jamie, reveals his desire to start a family. While surprised and happy, she’s not told Jamie about her rheumatic heart disease (RHD). She’s not sure how her heart disease will affect her pregnancy or if she can have a baby at all. Looking for answers, Tess turns to her best mate, her mum and the local health clinic for guidance on what to do next. Will they have the answers?

For one of the film’s directors,  Kenya McAdam, a 21 year old Jaru and Kira woman from Halls Creek, Western Australia currently living in Katherine, Northern Territory, the film was deeply personal and an intimate reflection on life as a young woman living with RHD. Kenya developed RHD at 15 years old and required open heart surgery within three months of diagnosis. Since that time, Kenya has worked with RHDAustralia to raise awareness about this entirely preventable disease.

Kenya said, "I chose to help create this film because I wanted to help young women living with RHD and make sure they can access information about contraception, pregnancy and planning for a baby.”

The film points out the main needs of a young woman living with RHD to help care for herself, her heart and her baby. The film reassures young women with RHD that they can have a normal healthy pregnancy; they just need to take extra care of themselves.”

“From a personal perspective, the film answered my unanswered questions. For other young women with RHD, I think it will help them understand more about approaching pregnancy." 

Having Kenya involved from the very start was central to ensuring the film was produced from a patient centric, woman centric and gender sensitive standpoint. Of equal importance was making certain it was developed to be culturally appropriate and safe. This was accomplished by including Aboriginal women throughout in the design, development, testing and making of the film.

Sharing a heartbeat was produced by RHDAustralia and the Menzies School of Health Research, and made possible with a grant from Northern Territory PHN.

Literature reviews and content of health promotion material from Australia and New Zealand shows that there is very little information available for girls and women who have RHD. A recently completed study conducted by the Australian Maternity Outcomes Surveillance System (AMOSS) has shown that for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, there are many misconceptions around RHD and how it can impact their pregnancies.

The target audience for the film is girls and young women from ages 13 to 20s who have mild to moderate RHD.

Sharing a heartbeat is freely available in English and Kriol, with plans to make the film available in more Indigenous languages. You can find these films and other resources on the RHDAustralia resource page

Watch Sharing a heartbeat now

Read more about the film on the RHDAustralia website.

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