Meghan Canavan reads from a binder containing information on her eight chronic illnesses, including postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, which causes her to faint unexpectedly at times, particularly after she stands up. She needs this binder with her so people with her know how to help if she is in distress. Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News

Abbotsford woman speaks out after she fainted and bystanders ignored her

Meghan Canavan says bystanders walked by with no offer of help after she fainted recently

An Abbotsford woman living with a chronic condition that causes unexpected fainting is asking the public take a more active role when they see someone in distress after she fainted near a local mall and found little help from those around her.

Meghan Canavan, 21, lived with seven chronic conditions, but says she was largely able to manage the conditions with full independence. She had been attending university in Kamloops in the fall when she was diagnosed with an eighth chronic condition: postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS).

The disorder means Canavan’s heart has to work harder to get blood to her brain after she stands up, which can cause her to feel dizzy or faint.

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Canavan was studying psychology at Thompson Rivers University during the fall semester, with the intention of becoming a therapist, but that was put on hold after she got “some pretty bad concussions.” She returned to Abbotsford in the beginning of December.

Canavan says she faints around once per day, which has hampered her independence, and that’s been hard to adjust to.

But while she often has people around her to help out in the case of a fall, Canavan said she found one incident last Thursday to be frustrating.

A couple of days prior, she had broken her hand after fainting and falling down some stairs, and was on her way to her doctor’s office to get a referral for a new cast. Upon arrival, Canavan found the office to be closed for lunch, so she decided to walk around to kill time.

“I just started to get dizzy, and I remember looking around to see if there’s anyone near me, and then I don’t really remember much after that. I just passed out into a low bush. And then I woke up, and it usually takes me a couple seconds to regain [and] be able to sit up,” Canavan said.

“I saw people, but I think they probably thought I was drunk or something, or I guess just not overly concerned.”

In an email, Canavan’s stepmother expressed frustration with that lack of help.

“We just can’t believe no one helped her. It’s so sad,” Skye Scholander said. “The people walking by Meghan [Thursday] saw an unconscious young lady lying on the ground bleeding from the face with her wrist in a cast. And chose to look but keep walking.”

People often do rush to help her when she faints. But she also said last Thursday’s incident was not isolated. People are more likely to rush to help her when she’s with someone, such as her father, than when she’s alone, Canavan said.

But when she’s alone is exactly when she needs the help.

A challenge with her condition is that, aside from currently having scrapes on her face and a broken hand, she generally looks healthy. That’s caused issues, for instance, when she has boarded a bus and people have declined to give up their seats.

Canavan offered a bit of advice for people when they see someone who may be in distress:

“[Don’t] be so quick to judge. There’s a lot of stuff that’s going on that you might not see, and just because someone looks OK doesn’t mean that they are OK,” Canavan said.

“Don’t touch the person that’s on the ground, but ask if they’re OK. Sometimes even just sitting. I know people have places to be and stuff, but if you have time, until help came, just to sit with someone. Just having the presence of someone else there really would have made a difference.

Because it’s scary when you wake up and you’re on the ground and you don’t know, you don’t remember fainting.”

Report an error or send us your tips, photos and video.

Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

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