Sleep Apnea can be a killer 

STAWELL - Roy Lee can still remember the events that took place on February 9 of this year quite vividly.

The former motor mechanic was travelling from Ararat back to his home just outside of Halls Gap when his car left the road near Mount William Creek.

"I believe I blacked out and instead of going around the corner I went straight ahead and probably 60 metres later I found a big tree to hit," Mr Lee said.

"When I came to, I saw a couple of cars on the Lake Fyans Road and I managed to open the door and then fell flat on my face."

While he had no visible injuries, Mr Lee was suffering from a fracture in his lower vertebrae, which meant he wasn't capable of standing up.

Soon motorists from the nearby cars had come to his aid and called a number of emergency service personnel.

Mr Lee's daughter and son-in-law were soon on the scene too, before he was transported to the Stawell Hospital where a CT-scan revealed the extent of his injuries.

It took Mr Lee eight weeks to be pain free, however he still undergoes treatment to address the issues brought about by the accident.

But what caused his blackout?

Mr Lee was not under the influence of alcohol and he said had not been feeling any more fatigued than usual.

"When I was at the A&E (Accident and Emergency department) at the hospital, the duty doctor Rebecca Young noticed while I was sleeping that I had stopped breathing at one stage for a period of time," he said.

"She recommended that when I see my regular GP that I be tested for sleep apnea."

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where a person experiences abnormal pauses in breathing or abnormally low breathing during sleep.

The disorder effects not only adults, but children as well and leads to daytime fatigue, a slower reaction time and vision problems.

Mr Lee underwent tests in Ballarat following the accident and was consequently diagnosed with sleep apnea.

Mr Lee said there are three different kinds of sleep apnea - Central, Complex and Obstructive. The latter is the most common.

"One of the treatments is with a mouth guard, which is designed to keep your mouth and jaw in position, there is one treatment less than that, which I can't remember," he said.

"Then there is the more dramatic one where you have to go onto an air pump. I had the worse category of the lot, which is basically when the brain forgets to tell you to breathe."

Mr Lee has slept using the breathing pump for several months now and said it has completely changed his life.

"Before this I knew I snored and I was waking up not feeling rested, but I had no idea," he said.

"Now I have a really good sleep and I can go to bed feeling tired as anything and wake up feeling fresh as a daisy."

Mr Lee said he is grateful he discovered that he had the disorder when he did and was able to walk away from the accident relatively unharmed.

He has urged people who show symptoms of sleep apnea - restlessness at night, waking up gasping for breathe, snoring - to see their doctor and get tested to avoid tragedy.

"If you show signs of any of those symptoms, you need to sit down with somebody and talk about it," he said.

"How many times do we read in the papers, single car runs off the road and hits a tree and the person is killed, or a car drives onto wrong side of the road, hits a truck or other car and the person is killed. Given that there is no alcohol or drugs present, they tend to say that it must have been fatigue.

"I said to the specialist in Ballarat, 'How many of those people could have actually done what I did?', and he said 'Possibly all of them, but they didn't survive to be able to tell us.'"

"I count myself 99.9 percent lucky that I am still here and able to tell people what happened.

"Getting yourself tested is something that takes one visit to the doctor or specialist and yes it can be somewhat expensive, but if it has the potential to save your life or someone else's lifethen it is well and truly worth it."

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