It has been a year since Annie Blunt passed away in the early hours of the 1st of July 2020 at Royal North Shore Hospital. Those who knew Annie described her as a brave woman who brought joy to everyone around her and she is sorely missed. The care and attention that Annie received from staff at The Kolling Institute and Royal North Shore Hospital inspired her partner James Plunkett-Cole to share their story with the NORTH Foundation. James lovingly describes Annie as the love of his life. They met in 1994, a few years after both of their marriages had ended, at a singles’ night for over-50s organised by one of Annie’s friends. James remembers,
“Annie appeared from behind a pillar and stopped about four metres away and just looked at me. She smiled and I fell instantly in love with her.”
Annie was completely adored by her three children and five grandchildren who live in Sydney, New York and London. They all loved their Grannie Annie, so naturally, when James and Annie went on holidays every second winter, their trips included stays in New York and London.
Annie suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm in May 2001. She spent the next 16 months in and out of hospital while a series of neurologists tried to work out how to improve her brain function, which had been impaired by a complication of her stroke, namely low blood salt levels (hyponatraemia). A doctor from St Vincent’s Hospital initially had some ideas which saw mild improvement before Annie’s daughter turned to the internet to find, ‘somewhere in the world’, someone who could build upon the treatment she had received. To her surprise and joy, she found him working at The Kolling Institute at Royal North Shore Hospital.
Professor of Medicine and nephrologist Michael Field had done research into the use of urea, dissolved in water, to restore the level of plasma sodium in situations like hers. After reviewing her case, he agreed to treat Annie and she began on urea, swallowed morning and evening. On this treatment plan, James describes Annie as being her ‘normal self’ again. The medication tasted foul but Annie bravely continued to take it and the amount she needed gradually reduced. Her response was so impressive that Professor Field wrote about cases of this kind in the medical literature. As is often the case with grateful patients, Annie and Professor Field became close friends as she made her twice yearly visits to the Kolling for check-ups.
In June 2005, and again in July 2006, she suffered seizures caused by Periodic Hypothermia, as a result of her core temperature being three-and-a-half degrees lower than normal. On both occasions she was taken by ambulance to Royal North Shore Hospital, where James says that,
“Annie received outstanding care, hand-in-glove with Professor Field at the Kolling.”
She returned home within a few days, albeit on strong anti-epileptic medication.
Notwithstanding the relative mildness of the Sydney winter, for Annie it was an invitation to leave town in June to travel to the Northern Hemisphere in even years, and to North Queensland in odd years, returning home in September.
Annie and James were coping well, even when COVID-19 first arrived in Australia. From March 2020 until the end of May 2020, James went on a walk every day to their favourite café where he would pick up a lovely lunch and bring it back to share with Annie. They did puzzles in the sun, played countless games of Scrabble, watched Netflix together and took long walks in Primrose Park.
Sadly, in the winter of 2020, locked down with borders closed and unable to escape the winter, Annie contracted a lung infection, her sodium crashed and once again she was rushed to Royal North Shore Hospital by ambulance.
“In the courageous three-week battle she fought for her life, she was looked after, both in the ward and the ICU, with extraordinary care and kindness, day and night. The knowledge, ability and professionalism of the doctors and nurses entrusted with her care could not have been better. It was a particularly difficult time for the medical profession dealing with a pandemic but they took care of Annie’s every need until, tragically, she could fight the good fight no longer.”
People close to Annie described her as an extrovert with a wonderful sense of humour, an unstoppable infectious laugh who loved meeting people. She was a fabulous cook, so her dinner parties were legendary, with lots of music and dancing.
When reflecting about his ongoing relationship with The NORTH Foundation,
“Thank you again for the encouragement and interest in one great lady’s successful and happy long life, after what could have been a life-ending brain injury 20 years ago. The years she had after her aneurysm are largely attributable to the outstanding medical care she received at the Kolling Institute and Royal North Shore Hospital whenever help was needed along the way. It is why I have chosen to give back and support the NORTH Foundation – I am grateful to the hospital, healthcare workers and all those who helped Annie along the way. Annie was truly a star and I miss her terribly.”