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Families want answers over thunderstorm asthma deaths

19 October 2017 5:44 AM
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Families want answers over thunderstorm asthma deaths

THE families of loved ones lost in last year’s freak thunderstorm asthma event hope an inquest will give them the answers they long for.

State Coroner Paresa Spanos is investigating the deaths of 10 people who died after suffering respiratory problems during freak storms across Melbourne on November 21.

Nine of the 10 victims were known asthma sufferers: Omar Moujalled, 18, Hope Carnevali, 20, Apollo Papadopoulos, 35, Clarence Leo, 37, Ling-Ling Ang, 47, Hoi-Sam Lau, 49, Ranjith Peiris, 57, Min Guo, 29, and Le Hue Huynh, 46.

But Croydon spray painter Thao Minh La, 48, had no reported medical history of asthma.

In the Coroner’s Court their families wiped away tears as details about their lives and what happened to them were read out.

Leading Senior Constable Duncan McKenzie, counsel assisting the Coroner, said by 6pm on November 21, Emergency Services Telecommunication Authority (ESTA) had received an unprecedented surge of calls for ambulances.

“The demand for Code 1 responses outstripped available resources,” Mr McKenzie said.

Only 57 per cent of ambulances attended within the 15-minute targeted response time, he said.

Admissions to Victorian hospitals, predominantly involving respiratory symptoms, increased by almost 50 per cent, he added.

Fighting back tears, Ann Peiris, who lost her husband of 36 years, Ranjith, when he collapsed and couldn’t breathe, said she hopes no other family has to go through what she has.

She recalls the day clearly and her panic as she had to wait much longer than expected for an ambulance.

“My husband was my soulmate. I miss him so much. I wish I had a magic wand that I could wave and bring him back,” Ms Peiris said.

She plans to follow the inquest closely, but said: “Whatever the outcome of this, it will not bring my husband back.”

Emma Papadopoulos said the last year without her son, Apollo, a Thomastown steelworks factory worker who had suffered asthma since he was six, was tough.

“It’s been a really hard year and we just want answers,” Ms Papadopoulos said.

Hope Carnevali’s mother Danielle had previously told of her heartbreak of cradling her 20-year-old daughter in her arms as she took her last breath.

They were on the front lawn of their Hoppers Crossing home waiting for an ambulance, which took 30 minutes to reach her.

Too distraught to speak after today’s hearing, her lawyer, Barrie Woollacott, said: “Danielle still has questions over Hope’s tragic death.

“However, nothing will be able to take away the loss Danielle and her family has experienced.”

Coroner Spanos reassured the families that changes have already been made to ensure this doesn't happen again.

She said two reports provided to her from the Inspector-General of Emergency Management detailed changes to ambulance dispatch policies.

ESTA) workers answering 000 calls must also be more transparent to callers on waiting times.

“It's probably no comfort to (the family) but those changes have definitely happened already,” Coroner Spanos said.

The coroner also referred to the Department of Health and Human Services' public campaign to raise awareness about thunderstorm asthma, which was little known before the deaths and is sparked by a combination of a high pollen count and prime weather conditions.

“It's very hard to miss those posters all over the place warning people about thunderstorm asthma,” Coroner Spanos said.


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