Dicing with death
By ZOE SATHERLEY
HEART patient Paul Johnston spent two-and-a-half weeks at Lismore Base Hospital, staring death in the face, while on a waiting list for a simple procedure that could save his life.
He was waiting for a coronary angiogram ? a vital diagnostic procedure which doctors at the Base have been fighting to get for years.
Member for Lismore, Thomas George, said he and hospital doctors had repeatedly pressed Health Minister Maurice Iemma to respond to Lismore's request for a cardiac catheter laboratory, where angiograms could be carried out.
"People's lives are unnecessarily being put at risk because we don't have this facility," he said.
The angiogram test pumps dye around the heart so doctors can see where it is blocked or damaged. It is vital before surgery can be done.
Had 56-year-old Paul Johnston, of Springrove, been in a Sydney or Brisbane Hospital, he would have had his coro- nary angiogram immediately after presenting at hospital with severe chest pains.
But Paul and his family, like every other heart patient at the hospital who needs an angiogram, was forced to wait ? with the imminent possibility of having a heart attack ? while his doctor searched for a coronary care bed for him in Sydney.
A senior doctor at Lismore Base Hospital said Paul's case was extremely common and a cause for great concern among medical staff.
"Patients can die while waiting for this diagnostic procedure," he said.
Mr Johnston, head chef at Lismore RSL for 14 years, raced to LBH hospital with severe chest pain in September.
He was given medication to thin his blood while he waited two-and-a-half weeks at LBH for a bed in Sydney.
"My wife, Robyn, was shattered. She cried every day and worried what she would do if I died of a heart attack," he said. "The stress was just terrible."
Mr Johnston was eventually flown to Sydney.
"This is very poor health care for a regional capital, and something has to be done. It is just disgusting," he said.
Mr Johnston said he had nothing but praise for his cardiologist and other hospital doctors and nurses at LBH who delivered first-class medical care.
"It is the State Government which has let down the North- ern Rivers badly. The health care system is clearly in crisis." he said.
Denice Fletcher, director of clinical services/operations at LBH, said while coronary angiograms were not yet available at the Base the health service looked forward to funding being provided for a cardiac catheter lab so these vital services could eventually be provided locally.