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

Local carpenter Tyler Bohn embarked on a quest to create the East Sooke Treehouse, after seeing people build similar structures on a Discovery Channel show. (East Sooke Treehouse Facebook photo)
East Sooke carpenter builds the ultimate tree fort

East Sooke Treehouse takes flight as an Airbnb

A native-to-B.C. wild queen bee (bombus melanopygus for those in the know) feeds on a periwinkle flower. (Submitted/Sarah Johnson, Native Bee Society of BC)
Wild bees need messy gardens to survive

The year-long nesting period makes habitat a primary concern for wild bees

Sidney’s Richard Talbot met Queen Elizabeth and the late Prince Philip (here with Princess Anne) during their 1971 visit to Victoria as British Columbia celebrated the centenary of joining Confederation. This picture shows the royals relaxing as they sail from Vancouver to Victoria on May 3, 1971. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Croke)
Sidney man who met late Prince Philip twice remembers his wicked sense of humour

Richard Talbot first met the Duke of Edinburgh in 1971, then again in 2015

A rider crosses a “skinny” on the newly opened trail known as 90s Jank, built within the Hartland system by volunteers with the South Island Mountain Bike Society. (Youtube/MTB Matt)
Mountain bikers celebrate first new trail in years on Saanich’s Mount Work

90s Jank trail a product of licence agreement between CRD and mountain bike society

Fire crews respond to the 3500-block of Blanshard Street in Saanich on April 16. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
UPDATED: BC Hydro crews repairing failed electrical equipment in Saanich

Vernon Avenue reopen to traffic following closure

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: Lookout Lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Photos of Vancouver Canucks players are pictured outside the closed box office of Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver Thursday, April 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canucks games against Leafs postponed as team returns from COVID-19

The team has had 11 games postponed since an outbreak late last month

For Leela Harrop, the recent death of her brother Raju Tiwari pushed her to sign up for the vaccine. Photo supplied
Island woman on fence about vaccine prompted by brother’s death

Leela Harrop of Comox says she did have issues with signing up online this past week

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
RCMP intercept vehicle fleeing with infant taken from Kamloops hospital

The baby was at the hospital receiving life-saving care

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Coldstream students took over the Your Letters page in the April 9, 2021, edition of the Vernon Morning Star to offer advice to adults about COVID-19. Interior Health took notice and offered their praise. (Vernon Morning Star)
‘We can get rid of COVID together’: B.C. kids share heartwarming advice

Grade 2 and 3 classes from a North Okanagan elementary took over Letters page of this Black Press newspaper

Most Read