A CALL to action in a 1997 Stirling Times article inspired Karrinyup resident Liz Gent to establish a lifesaving program at a time when youth drug overdoses were rife in WA.
Ms Gent was working as a volunteer first-aid trainer and drug rehabilitation worker and said the Stirling Times’ front-page plea for help with the drugs crisis from then WA Governor Michael Jeffrey was the kick-start she needed to develop the Save- a-Mate (SAM) first aid program.
“At that time up until June 1997 there were about 53 deaths, nearly every week there was an overdose; people were frightened,” she said.
“Often if someone saw their friend had overdosed they didn’t know what to do, so there were many people left on the doorsteps of pharmacies or doctors’ surgeries but by then it was too late.
“A person who did the SAM course actually saved his friend’s life on Scarborough beach when he stopped breathing. The course is very easy to remember and straightforward.”
The program, which was developed in conjunction with the Duke of Edinburgh Award, is still taught nationally by the Red Cross.
Ms Gent said she was concerned there was still “no acknowledgement” of the origins of the SAM program on the Red Cross website.
“The controversy started in 2000 when I was asked to present a paper at the Australia Resuscitation Council – I gave a presentation about SAM and mentioned my drug rehab work at the Fresh Start Recovery Program,” she said.
“I don’t think they (Red Cross) liked that I had referred to the program in my speech and put the SAM program on hold for a few years before relaunching it as a Red Cross initiative.”
Ms Gent said a 2009 diagnosis of breast cancer “ground her to a halt” and other projects fell by the wayside during her treatment.
However, when she followed it up with the Red Cross after her recovery there was no response.
“The least they could do is say it came about in WA and it was supported by the Duke of Edinburgh program which has never cracked a mention on the website; they totally ignored it,” she said.
A Red Cross spokeswoman said the Save-a-Mate program had gone from “strength to strength” over the past 20 years.
“We understand Liz Gent was a Red Cross first-aid trainer when she worked with Red Cross First Aid, Health and Safety and the Duke of Edinburgh Award to develop the original ‘Save-a-Mate program’ in Western Australia in 1997,” she said.
“It has evolved over time and is currently a peer education program, focussing on alcohol and other drugs as well as mental health.
“Save-a-Mate’s success is due to the hard work of Red Cross staff and volunteers like Liz Gent over many years and we thank them for their dedication.”
Ms Gent said she was proud of her contribution to the Red Cross by initiating the SAM program but was still calling for recognition of the history of the lifesaving resuscitation program.