Wes Lambert poses in this undated handout photo. Wes Lambert’s heart stopped at his wedding reception in Saskatoon 15 years ago. I got up to go to the podium, and I did not make it,” he recalls. He was 50 years old, an unusually young age for a cardiac arrest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Wes Lambert *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Wes Lambert poses in this undated handout photo. Wes Lambert’s heart stopped at his wedding reception in Saskatoon 15 years ago. I got up to go to the podium, and I did not make it,” he recalls. He was 50 years old, an unusually young age for a cardiac arrest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Wes Lambert *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Saskatchewan research shows First Nations suffer cardiac arrest at younger age

Some risk factors that lead to heart attacks are higher in the Indigenous population

Wes Lambert’s heart stopped at his wedding reception in Saskatoon 15 years ago.

“I got up to go to the podium, and I did not make it,” he recalls.

He was 50 years old, an unusually young age for a cardiac arrest.

Lambert, a member of the Flying Dust First Nation, is not alone.

A study of cardiac arrests in the First Nations population, believed to be the first of its kind, published last December in the Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine, shows the average age of victims is 46, which is 19 years younger than other Canadians.

The research looked at cardiac arrests within the ambulance catchment area of Saskatoon’s Royal University Hospital. But Dr. Philip Davis, the lead author and a Saskatoon emergency physician, suspects his study highlights a much broader problem.

“I have worked in Quebec, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta. Anecdotally it’s the same everywhere,” Davis says. “But we don’t have the data.”

The term cardiac arrest describes a condition where the heart stops beating. It is often fatal. A common reason is a heart attack caused by narrowing blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the heart. However, most heart attacks do not lead to cardiac arrest.

Davis’s team is now reviewing data on all heart attack victims admitted to the Royal University Hospital, which services the northwestern part of Saskatchewan. Like cardiac arrest, early findings suggest that First Nations people tend to be struck at a younger age — 10 years younger than other Canadians.

It is well-known that risk factors that lead to heart attacks, such as diabetes, smoking and high blood pressure, are higher in the Indigenous population. A Public Health Agency of Canada report indicates that diabetes rates are three to five times higher for First Nations people who live on reserves than for the general population.

Experts, including those with the World Health Organization, ascribe this gap to higher rates of poverty and poor access to food. An article published in the Lancet in December 2019 showed on-reserve grocery stores carry fewer fruit, vegetable, meat and dairy products than neighbouring communities, and food on reserve is often more expensive, as much as twice the national average on some reserves.

For years there have been calls for a national database detailing the high rate of cardiac arrests in the Indigenous population, or the underlying causes. As recently as last March, Dr. Steven Lin, an emergency physician at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, and his co-authors wrote in the Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine “there is a need for a national strategy to address the knowledge gaps regarding sudden cardiac death in Indigenous peoples.”

In Davis’s study, the survival rate for cardiac arrest was similar among First Nations and non-First Nations populations — about 15 per cent.

Lambert, who works as a potash miner, did not suffer from high blood pressure or diabetes, and he is not a smoker. His doctors chalked his event up to electrolyte abnormalities, perhaps due to working long hours in the mines.

Now 65, he is still working 12-hour shifts at BHP’s Jansen operation, east of Saskatoon.

Elmer Campbell, chief of the Buffalo Dene River Nation, a community 550 kilometres north of Saskatoon, had a heart attack when he was 50.

Like Lambert, Campbell did not have normal risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes or smoking. Doctors told him his heart attack was the result of years of stress serving as chief, and eating too much processed and fast food.

He says some of his friends have suffered heart attacks at as young as 44.

Fruit and vegetables are delivered to Buffalo Dene River Nation once a week. But they are pricey, and supplies often run out or spoil so locals have little choice but to rely on processed foods.

The community has tried a nurse-led initiative to increase the number of fruit and vegetable deliveries each week. But it has been unable to secure government funding for the program.

Marcia Mirasty, senior director of health and social development for the Meadow Lake Tribal Council, which represents nine First Nation reserves in northwestern Saskatchewan, notes that many First Nations communities are making strides toward healthier food options by encouraging vegetable gardens, school greenhouses, and Indigenous ways of hunting, fishing, food preparation and cooking. Interest is growing.

“A lot of young people did not see it as interesting, but now they are smoking fish, and drying meat, and making rabbit soup. Our Indigenous knowledge is being reintroduced,” says Mirasty.

Campbell says he has also changed his eating habits by turning to more wild food from hunting and fishing.

Dr. Nazanin Meshkat is an emergency physician and associate professor at University of Toronto. She is currently completing her certificate in the health impact journalism program at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

Nazanin Meshkat, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

HealthcareIndigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The property on which a residential school (pictured) that was torn down years ago in Lower Post is to be the location of a cultural centre. (Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre photo)
Lower Post residential school building to be demolished, replaced with cultural centre

Project to be funded by federal and provincial governments, Daylu Dena Council

The Dease Lake Airport is receiving $11-million in upgrades funded by the province, Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine and mining companies. (British Columbia Aviation Council)
Major upgrades coming to Dease Lake Airport

Airport to receive $11-million from the province, regional district and mining companies

Dianna Plouffe, right, with Mayor Gladys Atrill in front of Town Hall following the announcement she will be the new CAO> (Facebook photo)
Director of corporate services named Smithers CAO

Dianna Plouffe replaces Alan Harris who is retiring at the end of April

Mabel Todd, 83, of the Nak’azdli First Nation, leads a group of family members and advocates of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls as they walk along the so-called Highway of Tears in Witset. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Province, feds fund full cell service along ‘Highway of Tears’ following years of advocacy

A ‘critical milestone in helping prevent future tragedies’ after at least 10 Indigenous women murdered, missing along the route

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Top doctor warns B.C.’s daily cases could reach 3,000 as COVID hospitalizations surge

There are more than 400 people in hospital, with 125 of them in ICU

The plane blasted through an airport fence and down a hill, before stopping before a cement barrier on Highway 5A, right in front of a school bus. Photo submitted.
Student pilot crashes plane onto Highway 5A almost hitting school bus

Aircraft hit pavement right in front of school bus

Eight-year-old Piper and her family were raising money to help Guinevere, the bearded dragon, get a gynecological surgery. Sadly, the reptile didn’t survive the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Lizard fails to survive surgery, GoFundMe dollars help Langley family offset medical bills

Guinevere, a pet bearded dragon, underwent an ovariectomy on Tuesday

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A driver stopped by Saanich police following a road rage incident on April 15 was found to be impaired, in violation of a license restriction and in a damaged vehicle. They received a 90-day driving prohibition and a 30-day vehicle impound. (Saanich Police Traffic Safety Unit/Twitter)
Road rager fails breathalyzer on busy B.C. highway in vehicle he shouldn’t be driving

Saanich police say man was operating vehicle without required ignition lock

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Premier John Horgan booked to get AstraZeneca shot Friday

‘Let’s show all British Columbians that the best vaccine is the one that’s available to you now,’ he said

Doses of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine in a freezer trailer, to be transported to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Pfizer to increase vaccine deliveries in Canada as Moderna supply slashed

Moderna plans to ship 650,000 doses of its vaccine to Canada by the end of the month, instead of the expected 1.2 million

Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks about the province’s COVID-19 vaccine plans during a news conference at the legislature in Victoria. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
P.1 variant likely highest in B.C. due to more testing for it: Dr. Henry

Overall, just under 60% of new daily cases in the province involve variants

The father of Aaliyah Rosa planted a tree and laid a plaque in her memory in 2018. (Langley Advance Times files)
Final witness will extend Langley child murder trial into May or June

Lengthy trial began last autumn with COVID and other factors forcing it to take longer than expected

Most Read