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Retired nurse helps B.C. seniors beat the heat with portable air conditioners

As a heat wave descends over the province, one retired nurse is on a mission to make sure vulnerable seniors in her community have what they need to stay cool.

As a former geriatric nurse, Wilhemina Martin has been helping seniors her whole life. Now a senior herself, she continues to assist those most vulnerable to heat-related illnesses by delivering portable air-conditioners to their homes. She calls her project Port Moody Seniors Are Cool.

“I always knew that seniors are particularly vulnerable to heat. They do not thermo-regulate well, and many of them are alone,” Martin says.

That can be a deadly combination, as seen during the 2021 heat dome, when according to the BC Coroners Service, 619 people died — the majority of them elderly with compromised health.

“I was beyond sad because it is so unnecessary,” she says of that time.

To do her part to make sure seniors stay safe during future heat waves, she started appealing to her community of Port Moody to donate used portable air conditioners, and recruits volunteers to help her transport and install them.

Lynn McDonald received an air conditioner from Martin last year after suffering from heat stroke at home. “I thought that I was going to die, in my mind, you know, as each hour passed, I kept getting worse and I couldn't breathe,” she recalls.

When paramedics arrived, they checked the temperature of her apartment, and it was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, McDonald says.

Without her air conditioner from Martin, the senior fears she’d be calling the ambulance again as temperatures rise over 30 C in Metro Vancouver.

“This weekend coming up with the weather going to be as bad as it was last year, I'm going to be prepared, so thank god. She’s just, she's my angel, she really is. She saved me,” McDonald says.

So far this year, Martin has received a few air conditioners, and a city councillor is helping her apply for a grant to purchase some units and subsidize the utility bills.

“If you're on a fixed income, like many seniors are, like I am, to add the cost of running an air conditioner all day or all evening could be too much for some budgets,” she says. “No point in putting it into a home if somebody's too afraid to use it because they don't have the money.”

Martin urges seniors who live in hot homes to reach out. “We'll get you something to help you cool down,” she says. Top Stories

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