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It’ll never happen to me, I’m the rescuer

ACP info for clinicians ACP info for consumers Advance care planning
04 May 2022

People who work in emergency services care deeply about their patients but aren’t always as good at planning for their own health care, Christchurch paramedic and helicopter rescue crew member Stuart Cook says.  

‘In emergency services we tend to think “it’ll never happen to me, I’m the rescuer.” At the end of the day, we plan for holidays and weddings, but we don’t tell people what we want if our health changes.’  

Stuart is the latest face of the Health Quality & Safety Commission’s Kia whakarite: Be prepared advance care planning campaign. He will be appearing on social media and posters around the motu.  

You can download a PDF version of Stuart’s poster here or order physical copies by contacting acp@hqsc.govt.nz  

About advance care planning

Advance care planning is the process of thinking about, talking about and planning for future health care, including end-of-life care. It helps you, the important people in your life and your health care team understand what you want – especially if you can no longer speak for yourself.  

An advance care plan includes what is meaningful to you, your values and the ways you would like those caring for you to look after your spiritual and emotional needs. It can also cover whether you want to donate your organs, what sort of funeral you would like and where your important papers are.  

Free resources are available to help you with these conversations. Go to the ‘consumer resources’ section of myacp.org.nz 

A paramedic dressed in a red uniform. He is standing in front of a red and yellow helicopter with Wespac written on it.

Breaking down walls

Stuart believes advance care planning is important for people who work in areas like emergency services.  

‘When we attend horrific or traumatic jobs, we tend to put up emotional walls to protect ourselves, allowing us to focus and get our jobs done. In protecting ourselves emotionally we often forget these things could happen to us too, that we may be the ones in a critical state of health. So, have we told our loved ones what we want? 

People who work in emergency services can be very externally focused and I think this can cause problems. We need them to see the bigger picture.’ 

Advance care planning is important because it gives people a voice in what does or doesn’t happen to their bodies through changes in health, death and what they would like to happen afterwards, Stuart said. 

‘It would allow my wife to know what decisions to make if I become critically unwell or injured and know what I want following my death.  

‘Death is a part of life, you might as well die the way you want to,’ he said.  

Having those tricky conversations with whānau

Advance care planning also means learning about your whānau and their wishes, Stuart says.  

‘It is important to find out what your whānau want too. I would especially encourage my elderly parents to fill one out. 

‘We all have a responsibility to make sure everyone is on the same page. What is important to my father might not be something that is important to me, but I need to understand and respect that. Advance care planning is about raising awareness, having your voice heard and learning how to have those tricky conversations.’  

Talking about illness, injury and death can be confronting and scary for many facing their own mortality, which was why having these conversations are so important. Talking about advance care planning in the community is a good way to do this, as was normalising death, Stuart said. 

‘It’s coming for all of us.’  

A red and yellow helicopter sitting in a rocky field with snow capped mountains in the background.

Being part of something  bigger than myself

Born and raised in Auckland, with time spent growing up in the USA, Stuart spent 20 years with St John Ambulance. He is now a dual-trained critical care paramedic and rescue crew for the Christchurch-based Westpac rescue helicopter. He is married with three children aged two, four and six.  

People are what drew Stuart to paramedicine. ‘It’s about the people I get to work with, the patients and being part of something bigger than myself,’ he said.  

Seeing and supporting patients and their families on what could be their worst day is one of the most challenging parts of the job, but also one of the most rewarding, he said. ‘It’s a privilege to be part of a patient’s great journey.’  

His advice for those wanting to take up paramedicine is ‘take your opportunities, put your mental health first, learn how to say no, don’t rush, and keep learning and educating yourself.’  

‘Airman Ron’ and the Westpac Chopper Appeal

Stuart’s story coincides with the national Westpac Chopper Appeal. Each year the Canterbury West Coast Air Rescue Trust needs to raise $6m to support the delivery of the rescue helicopter service to its communities.  

In 2021 the Canterbury Westpac Rescue Helicopter responded to 731 emergency medical dispatches across the region, a 30 percent increase in mission numbers over the last two years, and this number is on the rise in 2022. 

You can read about ‘Airman Ron’, who plans to walk around his Christchurch neighbourhood for 90 days to raise $90,000 for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service before he turns 90, and donate to support his fundraising here: 

https://www.airrescue.co.nz/support/ron-takes-steps-to-save-lives/  

Find out more about the Westpac Chopper Appeal here:  https://www.airrescue.co.nz/  

Getting started with advance care planning

Our free advance care planning resources are available here:  

The most important part of advance care planning is starting the conversation. Have discussions with friends and loved ones about the things that are important to you, so they understand your wishes and can tell your health care team if you are unable to.  

You can find the plan and supporting documents at myacp.org.nz or by contacting your local health providers. If you would like a hand filling out your plan, we have a list of regional contacts:  

Keep an eye out for more Kia whakarite Kiwis

The advance care planning team is gathering stories from amazing people from all walks of life and all kinds of interests, from farmers to mixed martial arts fighters. We will share their Kia whakarite: Be prepared stories regularly.