A coronary in her own ambulance
Nausea initially attributed to a dodgy chicken sandwich turned out to be a heart attack, writes Cate Broughton.
Paramedic and part-time farmer Sharon Duthie has treated hundreds of heart attack patients in her 22 year career – but she never thought she would have to diagnose her own.
Luckily, when she had to, the 52-year-old was in exactly the right place – with her St John Ambulance crew partner.
‘‘It was quite lucky that I was at work when it happened and not in the middle of the sheep yards.’’
Duthie’s shock heart attack happened while on duty with colleague Cushla Murdoch in Ashburton on December 16.
The pair had just treated and transferred a patient into the ambulance when Duthie was suddenly overcome with nausea.
She blamed the chicken sandwich she had eaten for lunch but soon realised she was seriously unwell and decided to call for a back up ambulance.
Duthie managed to crawl through from the driver’s seat before collapsing on the second stretcher next to the patient.
When Murdoch saw Duthie had turned a ‘‘cardiac’’ shade of grey and was sweating profusely she acted immediately.
An electrocardiography test confirmed Duthie was a heart attack in her own
‘‘I asked if I could see the ECG and she said ‘you won’t want to know’ and got in the drivers seat.’’
Paramedics from the second ambulance prepared Duthie for surgery and gave her aspirin as they rushed to Ashburton Hospital.
At that point 90 per cent of her right coronary artery was blocked and a clot had formed to seal up the remaining 10 per cent.
At the hospital she was ‘‘thrombolysed’’ with a drug ‘‘that eats up the clot’’ but went into a cardiac arrest when the sudden restored blood flow caused inflammation.
In the next few minutes emergency staff twice used a defibrillator to ‘‘shock’’ her heart back into action while Duthie fell unconscious.
She was later flown by chopper to Christchurch Hospital, and the (ECG) having ambulance.
‘I asked if I could see the ECG and she said ‘you won’t want to know’ and got in the drivers seat. Sharon Duthie
next day had surgery to implant a stent in her artery to prevent a future blockage.
Duthie needs to pass an exercise tolerance test in order to regain her job and ability to drive an ambulance but she will have to build up her fitness slowly.
On a positive note, Duthie’s packet-a-day smoking habit – which she acquired while at university – has become a thing of the past.
Before the operation she was reminded smoking would have to go if she was to avoid taxpayer-funded surgery.
‘‘The cardiologist did the hard sell and reminded me of how much money they were about to spend on me . . . which was good actually.’’
Quitting the smokes has been the hardest change but Duthie is determined to stick with it.
‘‘I can’t change my genes can change that.’’
Duthie’s 77-year-old father had a heart attack eleven years ago and had since had five bypass another but operations implanted.
Still, her own experience came as a shock as she felt her lifestyle would be protective.
‘‘I’m quite fit, play golf once a week, don’t eat all the trouble foods because I live too far away from all the take away shops.’’
Duthie agreed to sign up for the Multi-Ethnic New Zealand Study of Acute Coronary Syndromes (MENZACS) aimed to improve understanding of heart disease risk for New Zealanders. and two stents
Previous studies had established key genetic variants and lifestyle factors that increase risks for people of European descent but the study would explore for other new variants that might be unique to Ma¯ori and Pacific people as well, Cameron said.
Study co-lead professor Vicky Cameron said the genes, gene variants and lifestyles of over 3000 Kiwis who have had a heart attack or angina are being analysed.
Variations in genes affected how well people responded to heart disease medications, including drugs to reduce blood pressure and thin the blood. The research would help improve treatment and allow doctors to prescribe medications according to the patient’s gene profile, rather than through trial and error.
The study, which so far has more than 1000 participants, funded by the Heart Foundation and the national science challenge, ‘‘Healthier Lives’’, would be completed in about five years, Cameron said.