health

'My best friend was on the brink of death. I had 8 minutes to keep her alive.'

Just a few weeks ago, 20-year-old Elly Kirkham was having dinner at her boyfriend’s parents house.

Within moments of sitting down to eat, Elly knew something wasn’t quite right. She had a nibble and pushed the food aside with no intention of eating much more.

That nibble, however, proved near-fatal.

Within the hour, Elly had contacted her best friend Hannah Pascoe for a lift home. Hannah, 21 and a nursing student, could tell something was a little off the minute her friend stepped in the car.

Her friend, she knows, has severe allergies to nuts and the additive 466. She’s always careful about the food that’s around, but knows she can’t control everyone, everything and every meal.

“We started to drive towards a hospital and she started to feel really sick. She vomited and was acting really weird. Her breathing got a bit heavier and you could tell she was getting a little bit panicked,” Hannah tells Mamamia.

They would later learn that although everyone in her direct orbit is well-versed in how severe her allergies really are, someone had accidentally used a cooking paste that contained an allergen. And as she sat in the car with her friend, an allergic reaction was slowly taking over every part of her body.

“She knew [in the car] something wasn’t right. What she didn’t know was that it would go from zero to 100 really fast,” Hannah tells Mamamia.

Hannah, as a nurse, did the most responsible thing she knew how to. She pulled over and called the ambulance the minute Elly’s breathing slowed.

“I pulled over and called the ambulance. At this point she was on the floor, breathing heavily and trying to get in as much air as possible.

“All I could do was talk to her, trying to get her to focus on me and tell her it was going to be OK. We could hear the sirens from minutes away because of the area we were in and I wanted her to focus on the fact help was coming.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Elly used the Epipen on herself despite Hannah being trained in its use, because, in Hannah’s own words, “when you do it yourself, “you know its 100 per cent right”.

Elly and Hannah.

"I was trying to be as supportive as I could, but while I was driving I felt totally helpless," Hannah recalls. Pulling over and calling the ambulance gave her a direct course of action.

Within a minute or two of the Epipen being administered, the ambulance had arrived and Elly was safely on her way to hospital. Since the incident, she has fully recovered, but had she not had a quick thinking friend by her side, the story could have had a vastly different conclusion. In fact, anyone in these kinds of scenarios has to be quick thinking. Hannah says from the time she picked up Elly to the ambulance arrived, only eight minutes elapsed.

Not everyone would have responded so well.

According to new research conducted by Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia in conjunction with Food Allergy Week, four out of five Australians would not be able to recognise if someone was having a potentially fatal allergic reaction. On top of that, 69 per cent said they would not know how to help someone having a severe allergic reaction, while 70 per cent don't know how to administer an Epipen.

Hannah says even though she's trained as a nurse  - not to mention as a friend - for these kinds of situations, she wishes there was more she could've done.

"I would've been been more forceful about pulling over earlier [if I could go back in time], I felt like I should have done something earlier."

So what would she tell people who may find themselves in the same scenario? According to Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia, it's estimated that there are 650,000 Australians who have been diagnosed with a food allergy, so it's likely Australians - at some point - will need the skills to save a life.

"I would tell them to know the basics about Epipens and the main signs to look out for. When I work with Elly, we put signs and instructions everywhere for everyone to see. We need more of that awareness around.

"I don't think people understand how quick it happens and it is so common. People just don't know what to do."

FROM OUR NETWORK
00:00 / ???