23 February 2024

One of Australia’s leading public health figures wants every Wimmera Mallee farmer to learn the warning signs of a heart attack, how to manage one and to consider an automated external defibrillator (AED) for their worksite. 

His crusade has the backing of a Wimmera farmer who is lucky to be alive. 

Grampians Health chief strategy and regions officer Dr Rob Grenfell wants to see a heart health emergency plan on site at every populated farm property. Boolite farmer Ian Penny is advocating for the same after being brought back to life in June last year. 

As the sun was setting on their property, Ian and his son Travis were servicing a tractor when Ian started experiencing excruciating chest pains. Travis downed tools and got Ian into his ute to drive him to Warracknabeal. On the 27km journey, Travis phoned Dr Franklin Butuyutu’s surgery to warn him of their imminent arrival. 

Travis asked the surgery team: ‘I think Dad’s having a heart attack, do I come to you, or do I go the hospital?’ 

Ian said the trip was very quick and when they arrived Dr Franklin and his nurse Debbie George were ready for him. 

“Dr Franklin and Debbie were both fantastic,” Ian said. 

“They got me to lay on the couch and gave me some adrenalin and aspirin and a spray under the tongue but I don’t remember a lot from there on. 

“I can recall saying to Dr Franklin that I’m having trouble lifting my arms. I’ve got no strength in them – and then I just died.” 

Ian said his next recollection was opening his eyes to see his wife gently rubbing his face. 

“She’d been called down to the surgery and I said to her, ‘I think I’ve had a little sleep’. 

“I woke up with a sore chest because they had the paddles on me, and Dr Franklin had given me a fair pounding to get me going again. 

“They found I had an artery that was completely blocked. Luckily Travis was with me otherwise I would never have got to Warracknabeal. 

“I was told that only about seven percent of people survive a heart attack after they’ve actually died. I consider myself very fortunate to have survived. 

“Apparently with the number of defibrillators around now that figure is rising. I think everyone should have an AED in their workplace, especially if they are in any risk category.” 

Ian said he and son Travis made the purchase of an AED a priority after the scare. 

“We have one on the farm now.” 

Dr Grenfell, who will be a guest speaker at Longerenong’s Wimmera Machinery Field Days in March, said Ian’s story was all too familiar. 

“Farmers are always too busy to be worrying about their health,” Dr Grenfell said. 

“Especially at harvest time when they stay on their tractors and trucks because it’s more important to beat the rain and get the harvest in than to take time out to visit a GP or hospital and find out why they have that chest pain, tightness or numbness in the arms. 

“Obviously getting a regular check-up, managing heart attack risks and knowing the warning signs of a heart attack, go a long way to preventing an untimely death. 

“At least by having a defibrillator nearby, there is a huge increase in the likelihood of saving a life or preventing a massive heart attack.” 

In recent years AEDs have become standard first aid equipment in community and sporting clubs as well as business houses and retail shops. Dr Grenfell said farms were virtually the final frontier for them. 

“We’re about three times below the state average for cardiac outcomes in this region and farmers are in a high risk mainly through their own apathy,” he said. 

“Ian’s story should be enough reason for every farmer to make sure they take heart disease seriously – and let’s face it, you don’t have to be old or unfit to be a risk to cardiovascular disease.” 

Dr Grenfell will be a guest speaker in the Field Days Auditorium on the opening day at 12.30pm. He will also be onsite at the Grampians Public Health Unit stand in the Moore Pavilion that day to discuss health issues at a rural level. 

Youngsters can enjoy free activities at the Grampians Health stand thanks to a partnership with Horsham Men’s Shed and Bunnings. Visitors can also learn about career and GAP Year opportunities, connect with health professionals and meet Grampians Health executives. 

Your heart | Heart Foundation 

Heart Age Calculator | Heart Foundation 

Ian and Trav Penny

Pictured; Ian and Travis Penny