When their five-year-old son Olly started having difficulty breathing Jason and Louise Reeves knew he could be in trouble: "He started to cough once he arrived at the doctor's with Jase which is a sign his airways are closing," Louise says.
Reeves is recalling the trauma of a moment back in January when Olly, who is allergic to dairy, was rushed to North Shore Hospital by St John Ambulance after suffering a horrifying and potentially life-threatening reaction – known as an anaphylactic episode – when he drank a smoothie containing yogurt.
The reaction - which can cause death - typically brings about symptoms like itchy rashes, throat or tongue swelling, shortness of breath, vomiting, lightheadedness or low blood pressure.
"It was about the fifth such episode he has had," says Reeves. "It is very traumatic and stressful as parents to watch him going through it."
Fortunately, Olly made a full recovery after hospital treatment and the story of his lucky escape comes as St John is launching its 2021 Heart of Gold Annual Appeal with a goal of raising at least $1.8 million for new ambulances and lifesaving equipment. The appeal runs from April 5 to April 11 and St John is asking Kiwis to help by holding fundraising activities, supporting street collections or simply making a donation.
Reeves says being in an ambulance is something Olly has become used to: "He is pretty amazing. He's had so many trips to hospital by ambulance he sees it as a bit of an adventure and often asks when he can go in one again.
"St John is great," she says. "They make you feel relaxed, they always make it a positive experience and you know your child is in safe hands. During this latest episode the ambulance officers were quick to respond with the critical care he needed."
Olly, who lives in Kumeu with his parents (his Dad Jason is a radio personality and co-hosts on Coast FM) and brother Max (8), developed breathing difficulties after he drank a smoothie while at a friend's place. Yogurt had accidentally been added to the smoothie.
"He thought it was yummy but he soon started complaining about not feeling well," Reeves says. "He said he had a sore tummy.
"When he got home we thought with some antihistamine he would be okay, so we gave him some. Then Jase took him to the doctor as a precaution.
Reeves family reunited with St John ambulance officers who saved Olly's life
"But once there he started to cough and have issues breathing, so the doctors gave him two shots of adrenaline (a medication to ease his symptoms) because he didn't respond well enough to the first dose," she says. "It was then the ambulance officers arrived to provide advanced care and take him to hospital."
Reeves says the incident was a sharp reminder to the family about the dangers Olly faces. "He hadn't had an episode for about two years and we thought that maybe he was okay. Lots of kids grow out of it but we don't know if Olly will – it's very much a wait and see situation."
At the time the family was living in Glenfield. They have since moved to Kumeu and because of the greater distance to hospitals have taken up an annual ambulance membership with St John Supporter Scheme to cover the whole family for any future ambulance costs.
Olly and his family have recently reunited with the St John officers and presented them with a cute picture he drew of them and the ambulance as a thank you.
St John has 2000 paid and 3000 volunteer ambulance officers who every year respond to more than half a million emergency calls. It provides services for 90 per cent of New Zealanders in 97 per cent of the country's geographical area.
St John chief executive Peter Bradley says the Heart of Gold Annual Appeal is a time to remind New Zealanders it needs their help. "Many people don't know St John is a charity and that every year we rely on the generosity of Kiwis to help keep our ambulances on the road and to continue delivering the incredible work we do in communities throughout Aotearoa.
"This appeal is the most significant public fundraising campaign of the year. Unfortunately, we were forced to cancel last year's campaign and community street collections due to the Covid-19 pandemic," he says. "This year we have plans in place to adapt if alert levels change to ensure we can continue to raise these vital funds."
With the prevalence of the use of QR codes thanks to the Covid tracer app - and fewer people carrying cash - St John has partnered with ASB and Giv2 to include the option to donate through a QR code which will be available on collection buckets, posters and on TVNZ OnDemand advertisements.
For more information and to donate visit: heartofgold.org.nz