INDIGENOUS Australians die from heart disease at double the rate of other Australians.
In parts of WA, Aboriginal people are hospitalized at four and half times the national average, with Fremantle, Cockburn and Melville in the top four for hospitalisations.
The Heart Foundation is working with hospitals like Royal Perth and the Derbarl Yerrigan Aboriginal Health Service to improve the situation.
Two years ago Fremantle Noongar Noel Nannup was taking part in the Heart Health program.
With no previous heart problems, he was on an exercise bike when he felt a strange tingling, but no pain.
“I was cool as a cucumber, because I didn’t really think much was wrong,” says the lead elder at Edith Cowan University.
But his heart was completely blocked and fortunately the medical staff monitoring the program realised there was a problem and sprang into action.
“While I was still getting off that exercise bike, clinical nurse specialist Ted Dowling had already put this little mobile phone gadget in my hand and said ‘this will tell us what’s going on’,” he said.
“The mobile phone device said something like ‘serious heart problem, consult your doctor immediately’.”
The AliveCor/Kardia Heart Monitor phone app probably saved Dr Nannup’s life, because he was rushed to nearby Royal Perth where he was fitted with a pacemaker.
The app, being trialled by Sydney University, is the first attempt to document atrial fibrillation rates in Aboriginal people across Australia.
Heart block is an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) that happens when the electrical impulses that tell the heart when to beat are delayed or blocked.
“Before the exercise bike incident, I didn’t know I had a heart problem,” Dr Nannup says.
“But what I did have…was difficulty climbing up rocks and I was falling asleep in my chair.”
His recovery was remarkably swift: “Straight away…I felt really good and no longer tired. Within four weeks, I was out bush and climbing rocks.”
Now aged 70, he’s lost five kilos, walks regularly and reckons he has too much to do to slow down.
“There is knowledge to impart and not enough hours in the day. The pacemaker helps my heart keep up with me.”
by JENNY D’ANGER