No-one knows the truth of the old saying, “Money can’t buy happiness,” quite like Kiwi Lotto winner Helen Henderson.
Helen, who won $18 million six years ago, recently came close to death after collapsing from a serious allergic reaction at her home near Pukekohe. If it hadn’t been for the quick actions of St John ambulance staff, Helen (66) is sure she wouldn't be here today.
Helen's life changed completely when she and her former husband Geoffrey claimed the first division prize, but her money meant little to her on the day she almost stopped breathing.
Within minutes of spraying air freshener when she had visitors at her Runciman home a month ago, a rash swept over her body and the palms of her hands began to itch. When she felt her mouth and tongue swelling, she told her new partner, Rick, that he had better call 111.
"My friends could see me starting to swell – my lips and my eyes were huge and I was shaky and sweating and struggling to get my breath. It was like something had hit me with a bomb. But the guardian angels turned up and took over from there," Helen says nodding to Patsy Carlyle, the St John operations team manager who happened to be in Pukekohe at the time Helen went into anaphylactic shock.
The fire service and three other paramedics, Janelle Chambers, Rachel Whallen and Jordan Retemeyer, were also sent to the scene. The story of Helen's experience will be featured on the TV One show Rapid Response next year, where Patsy will be seen recommending that Helen be injected with adrenaline, which eased her allergic reaction.
"It sure made a difference," says Helen. "I was able to breathe better, realising that I wasn't alone – the experts who were there helped a lot."
Patsy recalls Helen repeating the phrase, "I don't want to die,” which she says is commonly said by patients who are in anaphylactic shock. "We also get that from patients who are having massive heart attacks – there is a feeling of impending doom," Patsy explains.
"I knew that if I didn't get help soon I wouldn't be able breathe, and my friends didn't know what to do," says Helen, who now carries an EpiPen to use if she has another allergic reaction.
Donating to St John after the paramedics saved her life is just one of the positive things Helen has been able to do since becoming a multimillionaire overnight. The win has also given Helen opportunities that were closed to her during her years as a solo mother raising seven children.
Helen had bought a ticket every week for 17 years before buying the winning one at Kaeo in Northland in 2006. She and her husband at the time celebrated with a meal at a pie shop. Their first big luxury item was treating themselves to the best suite on the Queen Mary 2 cruise ship, complete with a butler, at a cost of $70,000.
"We bought a house, cars and jewellery," she says. "But the biggest things I bought and had the most fun buying was getting my children a house and a car each and making them debt free."
But like other winners whose names have been made public, Helen has dealt with several inappropriate requests for money. "I didn’t reply to some of those people and just laughed about it. I kept all the begging letters in an envelope which I have a giggle about."
But she says that there are definitely more positives than negatives from winning. "Why would you take a ticket if you didn't want the money? It's been great for me to know that, at least when I leave this earth, I've done something for somebody else."
Helen is so grateful to St John New Zealand for saving her life that she has donated thousands of dollars to the organisation.
The money will be spent in the Counties Manukau community as per Helen’s wishes, to assist in funding new equipment which helps paramedics gain airway access to patients who are struggling to breathe, and to provide pain relief to patients who can’t be injected, such as children with tiny veins. She’s also covering a shortfall in funding for three St John vehicles.
“This is a heartfelt donation – all my donations are,” says Helen who also supports other charities, including Auckland’s Starship Children’s Hospital. “I just want to acknowledge what I went through and the wonderful treatment I had.”
Helen’s rescuer Patsy says that while paramedics save the lives of people from all walks of life, the experience means a lot to her. “Me and three others had a hand in saving Helen’s life – you can’t put a price on that.”