Graphic: RFDS needs your help to assist cardiac patients
Cardiac emergencies account for almost 25 per cent of all patients transported by the Flying Doctor. And keeping so many critically-ill patients safe in the air requires constant access to a vast and costly range of cardiac monitoring medical equipment and supplies.
Graham considers himself to have a high pain threshold. But what he felt during a life-changing night last November was something he’d never experienced before.
“My chest was in agony. I remember clutching on to the windowsill for dear life and struggling to breathe, just waiting for the pain to subside. But it didn’t, and even though I didn’t really believe it was anything serious, I called an ambulance,” he said.
And thankfully he did because it turned out Graham was having a heart attack. And although he survived, there was a very real danger that he may not have.
“When the paramedics arrived, I was shocked at how seriously they were taking it. They immediately carried out an ECG, which I thought was just a formality. But when they saw the results, one of them said to me, ‘You’re having a heart attack and we need to take you straight to hospital’.
“I understood what he was saying, but it didn’t sink in that I was at risk of having another, potentially fatal, attack. All I knew was that I wanted away from the pain. It was extraordinary how much it hurt.”
The paramedics sedated Graham, administered blood thinners and rushed him to Rockhampton Hospital. The team did a brilliant job to stabilise Graham but they were concerned that he might have another heart attack at any moment, and realised his life was in danger if that were to happen.
To help minimise the risk, they decided he needed to get to Brisbane as soon as possible for further testing, treatment, and quite possibly, open-heart surgery.
So, they put a call through to Retrieval Services Queensland, who alerted the team at the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) Rockhampton Base that there was a Priority 1 emergency.
Within seconds, an aeromedical team consisting of a pilot, a LifeFlight doctor and a RFDS Flight Nurse called Maureen were working quickly to prepare one of our brilliantly equipped aircraft — often referred to as ‘flying intensive care units’ — for take off within the hour.
Graham doesn’t remember much about his flight. He was totally unaware that a Zoll X Monitor Defibrillator was used to track his heart rate, oxygen levels and other vital signs throughout the flight.
He also wasn’t aware until later that he was given oxygen and anti-nausea medication en route, or that he had the flight defibrillator pads attached to his chest, in case he developed a dangerous arrythmia or suffered another heart attack.
All Graham remembers is that the team on board were absolutely wonderful: “I remember that the Flight Nurse, Maureen, spoke to me throughout, and she was incredibly comforting. She made sure I was not in pain, reassured me that I was doing well, kept me informed and made the journey as smooth as possible. I’m so grateful for Maureen.”
Because the pilot was granted priority clearance, it took only 70 minutes for Graham to complete a journey that would have taken more than seven hours by road. And when they landed, an ambulance was already on the tarmac waiting to take Graham to Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.
Not long after his arrival, Graham was transferred to Prince Charles Hospital to undergo coronary artery bypass surgery.
It was a serious operation that thankfully went well. Just five days later Graham was able to return home to continue his recovery.
Today, almost nine months on from the night Graham could have lost his life, he is very much alive and well:
“I’m back at work installing security systems and doing what I can to help keep people safe across Central Queensland. And although I’m in my sixties, I’m hopeful I’ve still got a few years of work ahead of me.
“I enjoy my job but I look forward to retiring too, and to finally having time to do up the farm I bought a long time ago.
“My dream is to retire under the starry skies in the bush. And if I’m lucky enough for my dream to come true, I know that will be because of the incredible care I received from the Flying Doctor and the wonderful people whose donations to the RFDS helped give me this beautiful second chance.”
The cardiac monitoring medical equipment used by the Flying Doctor to help save heart attack patients like Graham is not cheap, and nor are the various disposable defibrillator pads, cannulas, and other supplies when you consider the quantities we need to provide critical care to those who need it most.
To help cardiac patients like Graham continue to receive the highest possible care, the Flying Doctor needs to raise $227,850. To help fund cardiac monitoring medical supplies and give people like Graham the best chance of surviving a heart attack, visit rfds.co/cardiac to donate.