As good a reason as any why you should take the flu vaccination

Anne and Iain MacAulay from Back, on the Isle of Lewis, are a very fortunate couple.

By John A. MacInnes
Saturday, 21st November 2020, 6:18 pm
Anne and Iain were shocked by how quickly she became unwell, but was extremely grateful to the NHS Western Isles and the air ambulance service for recognising the situation and dealing with it so promptly and efficiently.
Anne and Iain were shocked by how quickly she became unwell, but was extremely grateful to the NHS Western Isles and the air ambulance service for recognising the situation and dealing with it so promptly and efficiently.

During the Spring of 2014, Anne developed ​a strain of Influenza which, within 24 hours, became a medical crisis resulting in her being flown off island for life support.

She, thankfully, had a positive outcome, and she is now encouraging those eligible to take up the offer of the Influenza (flu) vaccination.

Now retired, the couple agreed to share their story to illustrate just how serious an illness flu can be.

Back in 2014, Anne was working for Highlands & Islands Enterprise as Assistant Area Manager, and was fit and healthy with no underlying conditions which could have caused the exacerbation of the flu. Her husband Iain was employed as the Director of Social and Community Services at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

Anne said, “All I felt was I was getting more and more tired and I had a persistent cough. It was a strain of flu that within 24 hours developed into serious pneumonia and my body, unable to fight the infection, was shutting down and I was dying.”

She continued, “I wasn’t aware of just how serious things were. In fact, even as they were sedating me to transport me from Western Isles Hospital to life support on the mainland, I was busy telling Iain to go to work, that it was nothing to worry about and everything was fine.”

Flu, which is a very unpleasant illness, can be caught all year round but is especially common in winter. Flu isn’t the same as the common cold as it is caused by a different group of viruses and the symptoms tend to start more suddenly, be more severe and last longer.

Her husband Iain said, “All of a sudden our family’s world was turned upside down. We were told that life support was the only way that Anne was going to survive, and she required to be flown away to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness as soon as possible.”

Anne was originally planned to be flown by the Scottish Air Ambulance service from Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness. However, on reaching Stornoway Airport her condition had deteriorated so much, the Scottish Air Ambulance crew made the decision to re-route her to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

This decision ultimately saved her life as Aberdeen Royal Infirmary had the only available adult ECMO (Extra Corporeal Manual Oxygenation) machine in Scotland at that time.

Anne continued, “I woke up two weeks later with doctors and nurses telling me how lucky I was to be alive. We are aware that I only recovered because I was given the life-saving treatment on an ECMO machine. Thankfully I had an unusually speedy recovery because I was fundamentally healthy and know I was being prayed for by my family, friends and colleagues, for which I am so grateful.”

Her rehabilitation to health consisted of using a walking stick for around six weeks whilst she regained her strength, as well as respiratory exercises she had been taught at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary to do at home.

It also took Anne seven months before she was completely physically fit to get back to work, even then returning on a phased-return basis.

The damage to her lungs from the illness is longer lasting however as, although her immune system has completely recovered, she now has Asthma which is treated by a steroid inhaler.

A year after Anne’s illness and recovery, both Anne and Iain re-evaluated their lifestyle, and both took the decision to retire and spend more time with each other and their family. In addition, Anne has also taken the opportunity to commit more time to focus on her community voluntary work.

Iain said, “We were so lucky. Our family had a positive outcome, but we know others who did not.

Anne concluded: “I would like to stress that I was not feeling particularly ill, other than having a “normal” bad flu. The flu virus can take you to death’s door in just a few hours, and I was only saved because my healthcare team followed their instincts and were not afraid to take risky decisions – and to them my family are eternally grateful.

“The one thing I learned from nearly dying from flu, is that I had no idea of just how serious it can be. I would urge anyone that if they have an opportunity to protect themselves, to do it. Flu is a serious illness so please take advantage of the Influenza vaccination.”

NHS Western Isles Chief Executive, Gordon Jamieson, said: “On behalf of NHS Western Isles I would like to sincerely thank Iain and Anne for sharing their story and helping us share how serious an illness flu can potentially be.

“This is why the flu vaccination campaign is so important and why those eligible should not delay in making an appointment to get vaccinated.”

NHS Western Isles, in conjunction with the couple, has produced a short film based on the MacAulay family’s experience, which is available to view at: https://vimeo.com/465438056

If you are eligible for a free influenza vaccination and have not yet booked an appointment, NHS Western Isles is encouraging individuals to contact NHS Western Isles on (01851) 763304 to book an appointment at one of its scheduled clinics.

Please note that this telephone number is open Monday to Friday, from 9am until 5pm. However, if it is more convenient, email [email protected] with your contact number and name and a healthcare professional will get back to you.

Phone lines may be busy so please try calling back if you are unable to get through at the first attempt.

Further information can be found at: www​.wihb.scot.nhs.uk/flu-is-serious including details on who is applicable for the flu vaccine.

NHS Western Isles thanks Anne and Iain for sharing their story..