WHEN diagnosed with prostate cancer at the end of 2009, Ron Heemi was told to get himself to Palmerston North for treatment – and make it quick.
But when he pulled out of his Te Karaka home, instead of heading for Palmy he turned left to Gisborne and got on a plane to visit his children and moko in Australia.
“I knew I had to have treatment but this was not news I was prepared to give them over the phone,” he says. “I wanted to tell them face to face.”
It’s that care for others that has been a defining feature of Ron's journey to health, and something he says he gets back in spades from the team at Turanga Health.
First, though, Ron (68) – a handy hooker in his day -- helped Turanga Health by getting the message out to men.
“I just happened to see Tama (Turanga Health population health manager Dwayne Tamatea) at the Waikohu Health Centre and he asked if I'd go talk to the local rugby team about getting checked,” he says.
Continuing with that work saw Ron previously nominated for a Tairāwhiti Man of the Year Award but he still managed to accumulate a range of health problems, from the arthritis that keeps him on crutches to pre-diabetes and the high blood pressure he manages on a daily basis.
To help, he accesses an equally wide range of Turanga Health services including attending twice-weekly Eke Tū sessions in Te Karaka, where he and other whānau get both educational support and a good physical work-out to boot.
Ever the doer, Ron has also taken part in Turanga Health's DIY workshops, which he says are invaluable for those needed to do jobs around the house.
For those tasks that are too big, however, he's had an assessment through Turanga Health's Health
Homes initiative that will see the repair work done to help make his home dry and warm.
It's all good, practical stuff but Ron says he especially likes Turanga Health's focus on the whole whānau.
“When you get crook it is not just you that suffers . . . it is all those who love you,” he says. “I had to go through 13 weeks of radiation and it breaks my heart to think that my wife had to go through it, too, so that support is really important.”
A former farmer, Ron (Ngāi Tūhoe) believes life on the land can be hard on people like him who have had physically-taxing jobs.
“But it's not just the physical things Turanga Health helps with . . . being unwell can be really isolating and a bit depressing, and they help with that as well.”
Turanga Health rural nurse Amanda Humphris says she loves working with Ron, who she describes as “a real community man”.
“He'll do anything for anyone,” she says. “You'll never hear a bad word about him.”
That's not to say she won't get tough when required – Ron has already lost more than 10 kilograms in preparation for surgery to help fix his arthritic hips and she is right behind him in helping get rid of that last five kilograms.
“And I really appreciate it!” Ron laughs. `“We might be part of the Turanga Health whānau, but she is part of ours, too.”
IN yet another year of controversy, Three Rivers Medical introduced a wild card in its annual cook-off with Turanga Health, in which the two health providers celebrate healthy eating . . . and healthy competition.
During last year's barbeque-themed event, both teams tried to improve their chances by sneakily sourcing extra-special local product for their grills, with Three Rivers taking out the title on the day.
This year, Three Rivers co-owner and education co-ordinator Dr Fergus Aitcheson further turned up the dial with an unconventional take on the pizza theme, doing a Mexican hat dance all over the brief by opting to create South American quesadilla.
However, Turanga Health had its own advantage . . . as part of its healthy food programme it has been towing around a food trailer – complete with in-built pizza ovens – to service workplaces around the rohe.
Community Action on Youth and Drugs (CAYAD) co-ordinator Waldo Horomia can't calculate how many pizzas he has made over the year, “but it must be in the hundreds”. Pizza de jour for him and his team-mates was the seafood-heavy Little Mermaid.
But he wasn't the only one manning the oven, each organisation fielded four teams of three with different offerings to tempt the crowd.
“If you have a nice thin base and choose fresh, healthy toppings, then pizza can be a good meal choice,” says Turanga Health project manager Dallas Poi. “Plus, everyone loves pizza, which is why we chose them for our Healthy Food initiative.”
For Dr Fergus, though, even a little bit naughty can be a little bit nice if enjoyed in moderation. Among his team's menu of quesadilla was the Sweet Surprise, featuring marshmallows on a spread of Nutella.
Not to be outdone, Turanga Health countered with its own dessert pizza, alongside tempting offerings like chief executive Reweti Ropiha's special Tane Mahuta and Tangaroa Tuatara pizzas.
Hot competition aside, Three Rivers chief executive/co-owner Ingrid Collins says that as well as encouraging healthy eating, the cook-off is a chance for the two organisations to celebrate their ongoing relationship.
“We've worked well together since we launched in 2012 and it's an important way to encourage healthy living beyond the doctors' rooms.”
With Turanga Health smoking cessation kaiawhina (and professional entertainer) Walter “The Wiz” Walsh on board as MC for this year's cook-off, the crowd at Three Rivers' carpark were urged to try each team's menu, then vote for the Supreme Winner.
The honour went to Turanga Health, with a “landslide” 144 votes to 104, and members of the crowd were in to win, too, with a fancy pizza oven up for grabs.
That went to Te Whetu Manu, who can now make her own healthy pizza meals.
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