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

Sweet gum trees like this one in City Square will be replaced over the next three years. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Duncan plans big tree replacement project for downtown

Sweet gums in City Square and along Station Street will go over the next three years

Cowichan Valley Capitals defenceman Logan Rands pokes the puck away from Alberni Valley Bulldogs forward Talon Duff. (Elena Rardon/Black Press Media)
Offence sags as Cowichan Capitals reach midway mark

Caps score one goal in three games as pod season continues

BCYP Minister for the Southern Interior, Aislinn Dressler of Fernie said the Youth Parliament being virtual was a great way to learn about how the BC Parliament was operating. (Photo contributed by Aislinn Dressler)
Applications open for Islands Youth Parliament

Applications must be received by April 23

Someone used this counterfeit $50 to pay for items at the Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Store in downtown Duncan in April 2021. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Duncan businesses warned of counterfeit cash

Fake $50 passed at Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Store

A large crowd protested against COVID-19 measures at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Snapchat)
VIDEO: Large, police-patrolled crowds gather at Vancouver beach for COVID protests

Vancouver police said they patrolled the area and monitored all gatherings

A teacher-librarian in Nanaimo was fired in 2019 for checking out an age-inappropriate graphic novel to a student. The discipline agreement was published Wednesday, April 21. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo teacher-librarian fired for checking out too-graphic graphic novel to student

Teacher had been previously disciplined and suspended on two occasions

Aria Pendak Jefferson cuddles ChiChi, the family cat that ran away two years ago in Ucluelet. The feline was missing until Courtney Johnson and Barry Edge discovered her in the parking lot of the Canadian Princess earlier this month. Aria and her parents were reunited with ChiChi in a parking lot in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
An Island girl’s wish is answered as her cat came back

Courtenay family reunited with cat that went missing in Ucluelet in 2019

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

Vancouver Island Connector and Tofino Bus is putting a 41-passenger electric bus through its paces in a three-month trial run between Nanaimo and Victoria. (Photo submitted)
Electric bus on trial run serving Victoria-to-Nanaimo route

Vancouver Island Connector and Tofino Bus trying out 41-seat electric coach for three months

Chum Salmon fry being examined with multiple motile and attached sea lice on Vargas Island. (Cedar Coast Field Station photo)
Study: Tofino fish farm sea lice infestations add fuel to push to remove open pens

Ahousaht First Nation asking for higher standards than what DFO requires

FILE – The Instagram app is shown on an iPhone in Toronto on Monday, March 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Judge acquits B.C. teen boy ‘set up’ on sex assault charge based on Instagram messages

The girl and her friends did not have ‘good intentions’ towards the accused, judge says

Kai Palkeinen recently helped a car stuck on the riverbed near the Big Eddy Bridge. While the car could not be saved, some of the driver’s belongings were. It’s common for vehicles to get stuck in the area due to significantly changing river levels from Revelstoke Dam. (Photo by Kai Palkeinen)
“I just sank a car’: Revelstoke resident tries to save vehicle from the Columbia River

Although it’s not permitted, the riverbed near the city is popular for off roading

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, walks down the street with an acquaintance after leaving B.C. Supreme Court during a lunch break at her extradition hearing, in Vancouver, B.C., Thursday, April 1, 2021. A judge is scheduled to release her decision today on a request to delay the final leg of hearings in Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rich Lam
B.C. judge grants Meng Wanzhou’s request to delay extradition hearings

Lawyers for Canada’s attorney general had argued there is no justification to delay proceedings in the case

Most Read