Tue, 3 Nov, 2015
From PTSD to entrepreneur
With an award-winning business under her belt, Over60 sat down with mum-of-three and ex-Police officer, Nicole Graham, to talk about how suffering PTSD and mitral valve prolapse led her to start Emergency ID to help others like her.
You used to work in the Police force, why did you decide to leave?
“I joined the Police force in 1989 at the age of 20. I had a strong sense of social justice and enjoyed the mateship within the force. We literally put our lives in each other’s hands and faced the most harrowing experiences side by side.
I was a ‘career cop’ and my ultimate aim was to become the first female commissioner. However, that all went pear-shaped when, like so many other Police, I was struck down with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after 13 years.
During my time stationed in busy western Sydney and remote rural communities, I experienced many horrific situations – fatalities, sieges, autopsies, stabbings, suicides, accidents and domestic violence – and I specialised in taking statements from sexually and physically abused children.
It eventually took its toll and I was severely affected by flashbacks, depression and anxiety. Most people don’t realise the huge amount of stress Police deal with and they have an extremely high rate of PTSD, depression, divorce and suicide. We need to look after and appreciate our Police a lot better than we do.”
You’ve had major heart surgery, can you tell us about this?
“I was 34-years-old and the mother of two young children. I was into fitness and competing in biathlons. During a routine GP visit I mentioned that I had been experiencing dizziness, vomiting and tiredness but had been pushing through to maintain my fitness.
[The doctor] listened to my heart and sent me immediately to a cardiologist. Within a week I was in St Vincent’s Hospital having open heart surgery. I was diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse, which meant oxygenated blood was not pumping around my body as it should, and told I was extremely lucky that I didn’t have a massive heart attack.
It was a long and slow recovery after a few complications, life support, intensive care and rehabilitation.
Living through such a traumatic time made me realise what is important in life. In the long run it changed me for the better. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – and that was certainly the case for me.”
Was this surgery one of the reasons you started your business?
“One of the outcomes of my heart issue was that I was recommended to wear medical jewellery so that if anything happened to me in the future, medical or emergency personnel would have some knowledge of my history.
That’s when I found there were very limited choices available and it was generally very unattractive – I guess as a 30-something young woman I didn’t fit their target market!
It got me thinking and I realised that members of my own family would have benefited from medical jewellery too.
I had an uncle with an intellectual disability who was killed by a drunk driver. He had spent hours in the hospital and then the morgue before we even knew anything had happened because he had no ID on him.
My father suffered from cancer when he was 26 until his passing at 43. He had great difficulty remembering his lengthy medical history, medications and contact details of specialists. Medical staff really needed to know those details so he could be treated correctly but he didn’t wear or carry anything as there was nothing suitable.
I also knew from my time in the Police, that it is so difficult to contact people in times of emergencies. Often the only details we had of those seriously injured, or worse, was an address from their licence. We were so often unable to contact loved ones and many heartbreaking moments could have been avoided if people carried emergency information on them.”
What is Emergency ID all about?
“Emergency ID is all about having a huge variety of products and services to relay vital information to first aiders, emergency services and hospital personnel if you are involved in an accident or medical incident. It’s all about providing information that could save your life, rather than leaving those treating you guessing if you have any previous medical conditions, medications or history that can affect your treatment. It’s also about having emergency contacts on or with you at all times so that the correct people can be notified and with you when you need it the most.”
What are you most proud of in relation to your business?
“Nine years ago the business consisted of a laptop on my dining room table and five products. We now have the largest and most diverse range available and we are world leaders in our field. We have also been independently judged and awarded numerous times – we are the most awarded in our field. We’re proudly 100 per cent Australian and AUSBUY accredited.
I am also very proud that as we grow we are becoming more and more involved in giving to charities and organisations. For example, we have proudly supported the Love Your Sister campaign, we are in a fundraising partnership with The McGrath Foundation, and I recently did the St Vincent’s CEO Sleepout, where I slept out on the street to raise money for the homeless. We also proudly donate Emergency ID to those in dire financial need and who are homeless though the Matthew Talbot Hostel and St Vincent de Paul Health Clinic in Kings Cross, NSW.
Lastly I am very proud to have just become a volunteer speaker for Beyond Blue, working to reduce the impact of depression and anxiety in the community by raising awareness and understanding, empowering people to seek help, and supporting recovery, management and resilience.”
What’s next for you?
“Doing more community work. I have lots of speaking engagements including one for Beyond Blue and supporting more and more charities and community events. I’d also like to take Emergency ID Australia worldwide, so we can not only assist Australians, but anyone who could benefit from wearing or having Emergency ID in a crisis. Oh, and travelling and being with the loves of my life – my husband and my three children. My 20-year-old skydiving instructor son, my 18-year-old budding lawyer daughter and an overly loved, attention-seeking four-year-old. Yes, there is a huge age gap there.”