Ground-breaking research hopes to prevent kids like 15-year-old Richie Takapautolo from living with a life threatening heart condition.
Seven years ago Richie was rushed to hospital after falling ill with a high temperature and sore joints.
He spent the night in hospital while he was monitored and was discharged the next day with what doctors thought was pneumonia, and was given antibiotics to treat the infection.
Two days later, the ambulance was called and Richie was returned to Auckland's Starship Hospital.
After a number of tests Richie was diagnosed with rheumatic fever nearly two weeks later. Not long after that, a heart scan showed he had a severely enlarged heart due to a badly leaking valve, which meant he also had rheumatic heart disease.
Richie underwent immediate open-heart surgery to repair the valve and spent the next seven weeks in Starship Hospital.
The teen, who one day hopes to become an NBA basketball player, now requires monthly penicillin injections to keep him alive.
His mother Natasha said despite still being able to play basketball, since the operation Richie's speech had suffered.
"He has been struggling with a stutter and his learning development has started to decline, along with his communication."
His father, also named Richie, said if Richie had been diagnosed early he wouldn't have had to have the operation.
"When we found out, it was too late."
Each year in New Zealand, up to 200 children are diagnosed with acute rheumatic fever, and around 160 people die from the disease.
New Zealand is one of the few developed countries in the world that is yet to eliminate rheumatic heart disease.
But new University of Auckland research hopes to change that.
Head researcher immunologist Dr Nikki Moreland said at the moment clinicians rely on a set of tests and symptoms to diagnosis rheumatic fever and there was no single test.
Her team is looking at blood from children who have rheumatic fever and comparing it with healthy children.
"We are looking for antibody markers that could form the basis of a diagnostic test so doctors could straightaway order a test and quickly figure out whether a child has rheumatic fever or not."
Moreland said the "unfortunately advantage" in New Zealand was having so many children with the condition and have the clinical and scientific expertise to conduct the research.
The research has been able to piggy-back off another New Zealand study looking into the risk factors of the deadly disease, led by University of Otago professor Michael Baker.
"Thanks to that research we have been able easily access samples from over 200 children with rheumatic fever."
Moreland's study was finished and all the blood samples had been stored. With some promising bio-markers identified, the next stage was validating those markers further to test how effective they could be for a diagnostic test.
Moreland said it was hard to say when the test would be ready for use but they hoped within three years.
Today is Red Nose Day, a Cure Kids campaign that aims to raise money for Moreland's research, as well as for other groundbreaking studies helping New Zealand kids stay healthy.
About rheumatic fever:
• Rheumatic fever can develop after a "strep throat".
• Most strep throats get better and don't lead to rheumatic fever. However, in a small number of people an untreated strep throat leads to rheumatic fever one to five weeks after the sore throat. This can cause the heart, joints, brain and skin to become inflamed and swollen.
• While the symptoms of rheumatic fever may disappear on their own, the inflammation can cause rheumatic heart disease, where there is scarring of the heart valves.
• People with rheumatic heart disease may need heart valve replacement surgery. Rheumatic heart disease can cause premature death in adults.
Rheumatic fever in New Zealand
• Each year, 100-200 children are diagnosed with acute rheumatic fever and about 160 die from it.
• Māori and Pacific children and young adults have the highest rates of rheumatic fever.
• Rheumatic fever is unevenly distributed in New Zealand, with most cases recorded in the North Island.