Rachael Parker

Meet one of the original heart kids

Tēnā koutou katoa

Ko Maungatautari te maunga

Ko Waikato te awa

Ko Tainui te waka

Ko Ruapeka te marae

Ko Tukorehe te hapu

Ko Ngāti Raukawa te iwi

Ko Rachael Parker taku ingoa

Hi all. My name is Rachael Parker. I was born and raised in Tokoroa, went to the Otago School of Physiotherapy and have worked at Tokoroa Physio since 1996. I am married to Greg Draper who is a police officer and we have three children: Tyler, 24, who is the mama of our two beautiful moko Izayah and Kiani-Jade, Owen, 21, a third year physiotherapy student at Otago University and Kieran, 15, a year 11 boarder at Hamilton Boys’ High School.

Recently I sent a photo to Heart Kids NZ of a photo taken in 1974 of myself with my parents, Pat & Kerry Parker, and my older sister Karina. It was taken at Greenlane Hospital during my seconday stay there as a baby. I was asked if I would be interested in sharing my story and I accepted with pleasure. Firstly to reassure parents of heart babies that we can grow into adults who have happy and healthy lives, and secondly to acknowledge my parents who lived through it all without the tautoko of wonderful organisations such as Heart Kids NZ and Ronald McDonald House.  There was also no such thing as Givealittle.

I was born weighing a healthy 8lb (or 3.6kg) at Tokoroa Hospital on the 16 November 1973. Things went down hill pretty quickly from there as I progressively lost weight and my fingers, toes and lips started to turn blue. Mum took me to the GP a number of times – she was called a neurotic mother. Call it mother’s intuition, she persisted and one day I was seen by a locum. Bless his soul, as before Mum & Dad knew it I was admitted to Waikato Hospital. There I started a four month stay before being taken to Greenlane Hospital for my first open heart surgery at five months of age in April 1974. If you were going to be a heart baby in the 1970s you were privileged to be operated on and cared for by the likes of Sir Brian Barratt-Boyes, Dr John Neutze, Dr Louise Calder and all the wonderful paediatric cardiology staff at Greenlane Hospital.

My surgery was to correct a coarctation of the aorta and banding of the pulmonary artery to treat a VSD. I was discharged from hospital after a few weeks and was then readmitted to Greenlane Hospital at nine months of age. This was the start of a six month stay during which the banding was reversed and the VSD repaired. These days parents would get to stay in Ronald McDonald House and have the tremendous support of Heart Kids – not so in the 1970s. Dad had a full time job to hold down and at the same time he was building our family home in Tokoroa. Mum had my older sister Karina to care for. They could only afford to come and see me every second weekend in their trusty Humber 80. When it was time to leave they said it was heartbreaking but they had the utmost confident in the medical staff, and their faith, that everything was going to be alright. This faith was tested a few times when rung in the middle of the night to be told I may not make it through the night...how would you feel? It wasn’t until I became a parent myself that I would truly appreciate what Mum & Dad went through. They are the heroes of this story.

Until I was 12 years of age I had follow ups once a year at Waikato Hospital and every second year at Greenlane. One of the highlights of going to Greenlane was seeing my picture up on the wall. Every baby who survived cardiac surgery had their picture taken – full A4 sized black and white framed photos. Each year more and more photos would line the walls of the paediatric outpatient clinic – we were the strong ones, we were the lucky ones.

One of the consequences of having deep hypothermia during my first surgery was that a normal heart rhythm could not be reestablished. Mum & Dad were advised to not let me participate in any competitive sports. The advice would likely be different these days but the advice at the time was heeded so I never participated in any team sport. Kapa haka was my thing as was doing well at school. I did (and still occasionally do in winter) have to tolerate aching legs and chilblains – whenever I complained as a child Mum would remind me it is a small price to pay for being alive.

After high school I continued to have echo-cardiograms every five years until my last one a few years back where a mild regurgitation which had always been present wasn’t...no more follow ups required. I do not have the cardiac capacity to run a marathon or cycle around Lake Taupo but in all other ways I have lead a happy, productive life. I work out, do some yoga at home, occasionally just about expire walking up mountains and stair climbs, have a demanding but fulfilling job and have children that have kept us very busy over the years with their sport. I’m grateful for every morning I wake up and every night I get to lie down in my warm bed - every day counts. All heart kids I believe have an inner strength or steel I like to call it. My parents would have called it stubbornness or willfulness but it has served me well in my life as it will all little bravehearts out there.

Ngā mihi

Rachael Parker

Mother, wife, daughter, sister, physiotherapist & braveheart