Today may be a difficult day for many Victorians as we remember the Thunderstorm Asthma crisis which struck Melbournians two years ago. An event like this conjures emotions from anyone who has lost a loved one or suffered severely from asthma.
This particular storm affected thousands of people, causing a sudden and unexpected fight for breath with little understanding of what was happening to them. It was frightening. Many people didn’t think they’d make it through the night. Ten families lost loved ones in a very short space of time – we think of these families the most today.
Two years later, we regard this crisis as the largest recorded event of its kind in the world, in terms of scale and impact. There has been a plethora of commendable work and investigations undertaken in immediate response. Part of this has been work to help people better understand how to treat their hay fever and asthma. Today I’d like to share the personal story of Kate West, whose own experience is reflective of many Victorians.
Kate West was one of many people who knew something wasn’t quite right two years ago. Her breath was wheezy and dry when she sunk into the Press Club booth to attend famous George Calombaris’ city restaurant for a progressive Greek themed dinner. By the time Kate made it to the third course, her body was screaming, gasping and wheezing trying to get her attention, “but I ignored it” she said. A long term hay fever sufferer Kate shares that “what I knew about asthma could fit on the back of a puffer.” As Kate got into a cab to go home she turned to her mother, “I can’t breathe”. “I was scared and completely uneducated on what I needed to do to get better. I suffered through the night, thinking it could be my last.” Kate, like thousands of people, had no idea of the crisis unfolding around her. She eventually sought medical help at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
“As I sat in the back of an Uber on my way to the hospital I thought, was it really that bad. Yes it was.”
It took twelve months for Kate to recover fully but she says, she’s one of the lucky ones. Kate’s story is so familiar to many others who experienced the seriousness of asthma for the very first time two years ago today. Many of these people were also hay fever sufferers. Many people like Kate, weren’t aware of the connection of asthma, allergies and weather events.
The deaths caused by Thunderstorm Asthma two years ago are tragic and today we want to take a moment to acknowledge the lives of Omar-Jamil Moujalled, Hope Marsh (also known as Hope Carnevali), Apollo Papadopoulos, Clarence Leo, Ling-Ling Ang, Thao La, Hoi-Sam Lau, Priyantha Peiris, Min Guo, LeHue Huynh.
If you know someone with asthma or if you have it, I urge you to learn asthma first aid, inform yourself, visit a GP to get an asthma action plan and always have a blue reliever at hand.