Meekatharra vollies gear up for one of their own

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Lisa FavazzoMidwest Times
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Anna Johnson with the RFDS plane in Meekatharra.
Camera IconAnna Johnson with the RFDS plane in Meekatharra. Credit: Supplied/Supplied

A Meekatharra woman’s near-death experience has left her with a renewed sense of gratitude for the selfless people who make efficient emergency care possible in the Murchison — a region overburdened by heart-health related hospitalisations.

“It was a really heartwarming experience ... if you will accept a poor-taste joke,” Anna Johnson, 58, said.

People in the Murchison are more likely to experience a heart-health related hospitalisation than their metropolitan peers, making an effective public health response vital.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data between 2012 and 2016 found there were 42 heart-related hospitalisations for every 10,000 people in WA. In Meekatharra, that number was 77, with Mount Magnet, Wiluna, Yalgoo all over 70.

After a stressful week at work last month, Ms Johnson noticed an ache across her upper back. A Facebook post about heart attack symptoms appearing differently in women and men “drifted” into her mind.

She’d read women were more likely to experience back pain and reflux-like symptoms.

She brushed it off, took some paracetamol and went to bed, but woke in the early hours with acid reflux symptoms.

“There were all the things (the post) was talking about,” she said. As a volunteer firefighter close with other volunteer emergency personnel in town, she didn’t want to bother her friends by calling triple-0, so started getting ready to travel to the local hospital by scooter.

Then, things became dire. Ms Johnson could hardly breathe, and called emergency services, ensuring there was water for her three dogs: “If I drop dead I wanna know my dogs have got water,” she said.

Anna Johnson with Missy, Caesar and Ted.
Camera IconAnna Johnson with Missy, Caesar and Ted. Credit: Supplied/Midwest Times, Supplied

Describing the moment the small town’s emergency service and volunteers shifted into gear, she said: “I watched my friends race from their homes. We all know each other so we had a good laugh and that calmed me down.”

Over the next week, St John Ambulance, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which took her to Perth, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and friends in Perth all cared for her health.

“Every step of the way, I could not believe how good the care was,” she said.

Fellow volunteers and community members took care of things in Meekatharra, including the dogs.

Ms Johnson said people in remote areas accepted they needed to take extra precautions — like learning first aid and relying on volunteers — given limited health resources.

“They know how to deal with heart attacks (in Meekatharra),” she said.

“They were calm ... absolutely amazing.”

The Heart Foundation says women are more likely than men to experience non-chest symptoms of a heart attack, including nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath, cold sweats, pain or discomfort in the jaw, hands, arms or back. Women aged 45 or over, and Indigenous women aged from 30, are encouraged to see their GP for a heart health check to find out their risk of a heart attack or stroke in the next five years.

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