Fifteen years before she trained as a paramedic, Luanne Willingham, mother of a five year old boy, was the victim of a domestic assault. While she now speaks freely about the incident, it took over seven years to talk about the 2001 event that became the driver of her ambition.
Ms Willingham said: “I was seriously assaulted and paramedics saved my life, so the best way to thank them was to become a paramedic myself, and do for someone else what paramedics did for me.”
“Without them I would not be here, and I have another three beautiful children that would not exist.”
Ms Willingham was assaulted so badly she was in a coma. Even so, she remembers hearing the paramedics’ voices saying ‘can you open your eyes Luanne?’ and ‘Squeeze my hand Luanne!’
For years she had nightmares that she was being chased by the person who assaulted her, in public, on a bus, on a train and following her down a hallway. It was when a family friend was in a coma in the last stages of cancer that she gained the courage, inspiration and strength to face her nightmares and talk about the assault.
After several difficult years that included financial struggle, homelessness and emotional struggles, Ms Willingham built a new life with a new partner in Melbourne and had three more children.
When her youngest child was going to kindergarten she started thinking about what direction her life would now take and, over the years, she found herself thinking about the paramedics that saved her life and the impact they had. She decided that would be her next challenge.
Studying paramedicine also had some unexpected benefits.
“For years after, I had recurring dreams about the assault, but over the time I was studying my dreams became less and less frequent,” she said. “I would have one approximately every 12 months as opposed to four or five over a year.”
“I feel that my life now has validated what happened and my recovery from it. I believe everything in life is a reflection of what you have been through. For every negative there is a positive.
“The assault was the biggest negative in my life and out of that I have a massively positive outcome.”
“It’s also a great example to my children that from adversity can come positivity. It’s not what happens but how you respond,” she said.
“My experiences have shaped my strengths in the job which are my empathy for and rapport with patients. I am able to relate to patients no matter what their situation because I understand that sometimes people take time to process their issues.
Interestingly Ms Willingham’s son, who was five at the time of the assault, is now 23 and a serving police officer, also inspired by the help his mother received.