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

An Interior Health nurse administers Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
105 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

Just over 8,000 new vaccine doses administered in the region for a total of 158,000 to date

Last year’s flood season stretched from April through early July, as this picture of flooding at Cache Creek park on July 4, 2020 shows. With area snowpacks at slightly above normal, temperatures and rainfall will play a role in determining what this year’s flood season looks like. (Photo credit: Tom Moe)
Snowpacks in area slightly higher than normal as freshet starts

Temperatures and rainfall are critical flood risk factors in coming weeks

The Clinton Annual Ball went ahead in 2020, albeit in a different format and with far fewer guests than usual. (Photo credit: Clinton Annual Ball committee)
Clinton Annual Ball postponed again in 2021, but still carries on

Thanks to some creativity, ball is still the longest continually-held event of its kind in Canada

The 2020 financial statements for Cache Creek show that the village needs to look at either increasing revenues or cutting services in order to maintain a balanced budget. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Cache Creek council advised to increase revenues or cut services

Presentation also shows that continued use of Landfill Legacy Fund for operations is unsustainable

A group of outdoor enthusiasts and heritage buffs learning more about the history of the iconic 1926 Alexandra Bridge during a pre-COVID-19 tour. (Photo credit: Hope Mountain Centre for Outdoor Learning)
A group of outdoor enthusiasts and heritage buffs learning more about the history of the iconic 1926 Alexandra Bridge during a pre-COVID-19 tour. (Photo credit: Hope Mountain Centre for Outdoor Learning)
Major grant will help refurbish historic Alexandra Bridge near Spuzzum

The 1926 bridge, which last saw vehicle traffic in 1964, is major attraction on Fraser Canyon drive

Demonstrators at the legislature on April 14 called on the province to decriminalize drug possession and provide widespread access to regulated safe supply across B.C. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Rally calls for decriminalization, safe supply on 5th anniversary of overdose emergency declaration

From 2016 to the end of February, 7,072 British Columbians died due to overdose

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. blockades aimed at protecting old-growth forests reveal First Nation split

Two Pacheedaht chiefs say they’re ‘concerned about the increasing polarization over forestry activities’ in the territory

Richmond RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng said, in March, the force received a stand-out number of seven reports of incidents that appeared to have “racial undertones.” (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
‘Racially motivated’ incidents on the rise in B.C’s 4th largest city: police

Three incidents in Richmond are currently being invested as hate crimes, says RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng

Commercial trucks head south towards the Pacific Highway border crossing Wednesday (April 14, 2021). The union representing Canadian border officers wants its members to be included on the frontline priority list for the COVID-19 vaccine. (Aaron Hinks photo)
CBSA officers’ union calls for vaccine priority in B.C.

Border officers at ports including, YVR and land crossings should ‘not be left behind’

A still from the video taken of a violent arrest on May 30, 2020 in downtown Kelowna. (File)
Kelowna Mountie charged with assault for caught-on-camera violent arrest

Const. Siggy Pietrzak was filmed punching a suspected impaired driver at least 10 times during an arrest

A screenshot from a Nuu-chah-nulth healing song and performance created in collaboration between Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso. (Screenshot from YouTube)
VIDEO: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation brothers produce COVID-19 healing song

Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso share dance and inspiration.

Most Read