Please view our cookie policy that explains what cookies are and how they are used on our website. This also provides you with a guide on how to disable cookies, but please be aware that parts of the site will not function correctly if you disable them.

By closing this message, you consent to our use of cookies on this device in accordance with our cookie policy unless you have disabled them.

North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust - 70 years of the NHS


Home > News > Cumberland Infirmary cardiac physiologist to heal hearts in Africa

Cumberland Infirmary cardiac physiologist to heal hearts in Africa

Posted on Wednesday 20th April 2016
Julie Kelly

Julie Kelly

A cardiac physiologist is to travel to South Africa to help underprivileged children with a potentially life-threatening heart condition.

Julie Kelly, lead cardiac physiologist from the Cumberland infirmary in Carlisle, will be making the journey to Cape Town in October to be part of the Echo in Africa project. The project aims to address the problem of the high incidence of rheumatic heart disease in underdeveloped countries, such as South Africa.

Rheumatic heart disease is caused by an over-reaction to Streptococcal throat infection which causes a disease called Rheumatic Fever and is a disease of poverty and under nutrition. It causes inflammation of the heart valves, with each recurrence of the throat infection, the disease reactivates.  Repeated infections can lead to severe scarring of the valves which in turn can cause heart failure. It is a significant cause of premature death and infant and maternal mortality.

Julie will be performing an echocardiogram, or "echo", to scan the heart and check its condition as well as the surrounding blood vessels. Prompt detection and long-term treatment with antibiotics can prevent the recurrent throat infections which lead to reactivation of the disease.

The project screens children from poorer districts of the city, with the initial assessments taking place in the Tygerberg hospital. This is a very large hospital with 1,388 beds - by comparison the Cumberland Infirmary has 427 beds. Julie will then accompany district nurses into the townships to scan children at risk of the disease who can’t attend the clinic.

The humanitarian project is run in collaboration between the British Society of Echocardiography and Tygerberg University in Stellenbosch.

Julie said: “The conditions some of these children live in is truly heart breaking – they don’t necessarily have access to running water and electricity so they often can be in poor health.

“I want to use my skills to help and to make a real difference to the lives of the children who may not know they have this condition. Rheumatic heart disease kills so it really is about saving lives.”

If you would like to donate to Echo in Africa please visit their website -