Parrot saves sleep disorder owner's life

Barbara Smith-Schafer and Dominic
Image caption Barbara Smith-Schafer said her pet parrot Dominic can mimic her snoring

A Lincolnshire woman who has a sleep disorder which can cause her to stop breathing says her African Grey parrot has learned how to save her life.

Barbara Smith-Schafer, 62, from Skegness, was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) in 2009.

She says Dominic the parrot can mimic her snoring and wakes her up by flapping his wings and gnawing at her shoulder if her breathing pauses.

Sleep apnoea puts a strain on the heart and can lead to serious health issues.

Mrs Smith-Schafer said she used to be embarrassed that Dominic could mimic her snoring.

"But since my OSA began to get worse he's learned to wake me up when I fall asleep in a dangerous position, or when I've stopped breathing.

"He's really become my knight in shining armour," she said.

The condition causes a person's airway to collapse during sleep, obstructing breathing and often causing the person to snore loudly.

In the past, Mrs Smith-Schafer has collapsed on the floor and fallen face first onto her living room table after falling asleep sitting up.

She has broken her nose five times and fractured her shoulder.

'Uniquely talented parrot'

Michael Oko, consultant ear, nose and throat surgeon and sleep apnoea specialist at the Boston Pilgrim Hospital in Lincolnshire, said: "For up to one in five who snore, the cause will be OSA which, if left untreated, can lead to significant cardiovascular damage and hypoxia of the brain.

"Fortunately for those of us without the helping hand of a uniquely talented parrot, there are some highly effective treatments."

Mrs Smith-Schafer now has a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airways Pressure) machine which provides a gentle flow of air pressure through her nose, using a mask.

The air pressure stops her airway collapsing, meaning she can breathe freely while she is asleep.

"Whilst I'm grateful to Dominic for keeping an eye on me, I certainly won't miss the painful alarm calls or his mocking my snoring," said Mrs Smith-Schafer.

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