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Paramount, Manumalo Academy donate to the Rheumatic Heart Disease program

Leota Wanda Alofa, with her children Georgina and Fitzgerald
In return, DOH has named the clinic after them: “The Manumalo Alofa Bicillin Clinic”

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Yesterday morning, Paramount Builders and Manumalo Academy donated a combined total of $9,447.96 to assist the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) Cardiology Team who arrived in the territory this past Monday evening to conduct week-long screenings and assessments for local children diagnosed with Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD).

Manumalo students, faculty, and staff - including parents - gathered in the school’s gymnasium to present the donation to the nine-member team, led by Dr. Laurie Armsby, who has visited American Samoa frequently over the past 10 years.

In her remarks, Dr. Armsby revealed that in 2010, she got a phone call from a doctor at LBJ Hospital, saying there is a little boy who needs heart surgery and if they could help him.

“I said yes, absolutely, we will help him. And what else does he need?” Dr. Armsby shared. “And that started a relationship. We’ve been coming here ever since, every year, at least once a year. And the goal is….we want to help so many people here in American Samoa, trying to help children and keep their hearts healthy.”

“And that is what we are doing this week,” she continued. “We wouldn’t be here without your donation. Thank you so much!” She credited the local Dept. of Health and LBJ for “working so hard to take care of you”. She concluded, “Thank you to Paramount for supporting us for so many years.”

In his remarks, Paramount Builders president and Manumalo Academy director Papalii Laulii Alofa said it was the school’s NJHS, NHS - and the parents - who “put together this money to assist with the airfares” for the traveling group.

“There are things you do for the sake of doing it, and then there are things you do because you enjoy doing it,” Papalii said, adding that there are kids who attend Manumalo Academy that have sought assistance for RHD. He told the cardiology team that Manumalo and Paramount are willing to assist them in any way, and whatever they need, they can call.

Manumalo Academy director Papalii Laulii Alofa, who is also the president of Paramount Builders, presenting a monetary donation of over $9,000 yesterday, to the cardiology team from Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) to help with the screening and assessing of local children diagnosed with Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD). [photo: B. Chen]

Ken Kuaea, the executive director of DOH community health centers, expressed his gratitude for the donation and told the Manumalo students, “Because of your generous support, approximately 166 children, just like yourselves, received treatment with bicillin, that was purchased with the donation you gave.”

In addition, “We were able to accumulate 1,500 doses of bicillin” to create an inventory “to continue to provide these shots” for children who need them. In honor of this, Kuaea continued, “we have named the clinic after this wonderful institution of education” - The Manumalo Alofa Bicillin Clinic “to help us remember the work that we do together with you.”

In November 2017, Paramount donated $12,000 to the cause. At the time, it was declared that American Samoa had the highest rate of rheumatic heart disease (RHD) cases in the world, knocking New Zealand from the #1 spot.

According to DOH official Ipuniuesea Eliapo-Unutoa, through the partnership between DOH, LBJTMC, Paramount Builders and Manumalo Academy “we are able to host this team to not only screen new schools, but also to review priority RHD cases each year.”

She said cardiologists “are also able to provide consultation on congenital cases at the LBJ nursery, as well as inpatient pediatric patients. Each year, they also provide a CME course for the providers on cardiology related topics for both DOH and LBJ providers.”

Eliapo-Unutoa shared with Samoa News that last year, two local schools initiated donations to the RHD program to help with efforts related to the condition.  Tafuna High School raised $7,000 and Manumalo donated $5,000 to the DOH RHD program.

“Students from Manumalo Academy wanted to help purchase medication for the RHD population, while the Tafuna HS students wanted to contribute to the efforts of school screenings for all of American Samoa,” Eliapo-Unutoa explained.  “Both donations were used according to the specific requests. While Tafuna High school monies enabled teams such as BYU to come to American Samoa to conduct school screenings earlier this year, Manumalo donations have afforded bicillin injections to be offered at the Tafuna Health Center - for free - for all children diagnosed with RHD in the territory.”

For this week, the schedule is as follows:

  • Tuesday:  CME session with DOH providers followed by school screening - 2 schools (Iakina & Peteli Academy)
  • Wednesday:  CME for LBJ providers followed by clinic appointments all day at DOH (Fagaalu Primary Clinic)
  • Thursday:  Cont. Clinical Appointments all day at DOH Fagaalu Primary Care
  • Friday:  Cont. Clinical Appointments all day at DOH Fagaalu Primary Care
  • Monday (Holiday): Cont. Clinical Appointments all day at DOH Fagaalu Primary Care

The  cardiology team from Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) arrived in the territory this past Monday evening to carry out week-long screenings and assessments for local children diagnosed with Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD). The team departs Monday evening.They group is pictured with the executive director of the DOH community health centers, Ken Kuaea (center) and DOH official Ipuniuesea Eliapo-Unutoa (far right).  [photo: Blue Chen]


Rheumatic heart disease (RHD) is a complication of rheumatic fever in which heart valves are damaged. (A heart valve acts like a one-way door; it ensures that blood pumped by the heart flows in one direction only. Once it is damaged, it can leak and may cause the victim to feel tired all the time, and they may find it hard to breathe.)

Rheumatic fever is an inflammation that begins with strep throat and can affect other parts of the body, specifically the heart, joints, brain, and skin. It may cause permanent damage to heart valves and progress to RHD.

Antibiotics are the go-to remedy for strep throat. But once it progresses to rheumatic fever — and if left untreated — RHD is the result and while heart surgery may manage some of the problems and prolong life, it will not cure RHD.

In an initial interview with Samoa News, Dr. Armsby explained that strep throat is caused by a bacteria; however, bacteria is not what causes rheumatic fever and RHD. Instead, it is the body's immune system being 'revved up' to fight off the bacteria. She said there are shots to keep RHD at bay but without full compliance with the prescribed treatment plan, patients risk getting sicker.

She said a study conducted back in 2012 determined that the territory had the highest incidents of RHD, based on criteria set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO). Her solution to the problem: eradicate it by stopping the progression of strep throat.

"Strep throat is spread through a bacteria and for some reason, kids are more susceptible to getting it," she said. “We must stress the importance of prevention. Also, there is a great need for funding and support. Nobody really knows why there is such a high rate of RHD in American Samoa."

Members of the Manumalo Academy National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) and National Honor Society (NHS) with the cardiology team from Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) yesterday morning, following the presentation of  a monetary donation totaling over $9,000 from the Flames and Paramount Builders. [photo: B. Chen]