Calls for better education about asthma after death of Gisborne mum

Alicia Kirkpatrick died at the age of 29, leaving behind three young children.
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Alicia Kirkpatrick died at the age of 29, leaving behind three young children.

David Kirkpatrick believes his daughter might still be alive if she had been more aware of the life-threatening risks of asthma.

"I think she took for granted [the fact] that when she was OK, she was OK, but it's like a flick of a switch," he said.

Alicia Kirkpatrick, a 29-year-old musician, suffered a fatal asthma attack while in a car in back country near Gisborne on August 28. Her three daughters - aged 11, 9 and 17 months - were in the car at the time.

Letitia O'Dwyer, chief executive of the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ, says reducing deaths comes down to education.
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Letitia O'Dwyer, chief executive of the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ, says reducing deaths comes down to education.

Between 60 and 70 Kiwis die from asthma-related problems every year.

That figure has tracked downward slightly since 2000. But both Kirkpatrick and the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation believe there is a greater need for education about the dangers of the condition.

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Figures from the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation Impact Report show the change in rates of asthma deaths over the ...
ASTHMA AND RESPIRATORY FOUNDATIO

Figures from the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation Impact Report show the change in rates of asthma deaths over the years. The figures for asthma deaths in 2006 was 79, then 61 for 2007 and 65 for 2008.

"Asthma is a killer and it destroys families, just like car crashes and everything else," David Kirkpatrick said.

Alicia's heart stopped in an earlier serious attack at her home in May, next door to her aunty who had access to the local fire station and its oxygen tanks.

"The first attack, as bad as it was, even that wasn't enough to keep her on top of it," Kirkpatrick said.

"She's one of eight children. She was more into helping everybody else than helping herself."

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When the second attack in August came on she was about 30km away from home, with no cellphone reception, no landline and no easy access to emergency services, Kirkpatrick said.

He believed the power and water had been cut off at her home, so she had headed to her mother's house.

Asthma and Respiratory Foundation chief executive Letitia O'Dwyer said in cases of severe and sudden attacks some deaths will always be inevitable.

"If you can't get to an ambulance that's always going to happen, but what we want to do is try and educate."

She did not believe there were issues with the quality of medication, but said it was important people knew the importance of using preventer inhalers as well as reliever inhalers.

Preventer inhalers - usually brown or orange - treat the inflammation inside your airways and prevent swelling. Reliever inhalers bring short term relief but do not treat the swelling.

In Alicia Kirkpatrick's case, her regular inhaler proved ineffective and she had not been prescribed a nebuliser. Her inhaler and prednisone were all that she had with her when she died, her father said.

He is seeking out counselling for his mokopuna, who he has been caring for since their mother's death. A Givelittle page has been set up to help with their care.

"At the moment we are concentrating on those girls and trying to get some normalcy back into their lives, and making sure they are OK mentally."

OECD statistics indicate New Zealand has the fourth-highest hospital admission rates for asthma of OECD countries.

There is no defined Ministry of Health target for respiratory illness - our third biggest killer - which costs New Zealand about $6 billion each year, according to the foundation's 2016 impact report.

The foundation needed Government support in order to fund education and awareness work, O'Dwyer said.

"As soon as next government is formed I'll be knocking on the minister of health's door and pushing to have budget behind respiratory illness."

ASTHMA: WHAT TO LOOK FOR

ASSESS - Mild attack: Short of breath, wheeze, cough, chest tightness. Moderate attack: Loud wheeze, breathing difficulty, can only speak in short sentences. In a severe attack - if they're having difficulty saying two words, or they are blue around the mouth. Call 111.

SIT - In a mild attack, sit them upright, give them two doses of a reliever inhaler.

TREAT - For moderate attacks, treat with six doses of an inhaler, with a spacer if possible. Ask them to take six breaths per puff.

HELP - If six minutes go by and there is no improvement then call an ambulance.

MONITOR - If they are improving after six minutes, keep monitoring them. Repeat doses of reliever inhaler if needed.

ALL OK - When they are breathing normally without wheeze, they are OK. It's important to see a doctor after an asthma attack.

 - Stuff

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