Sixty-five-year-old, Mere Kiripatea, was referred to Te Arawa Whānau Ora’s Whaimua programme at the beginning of the year by a respiratory nurse at Rotorua Hospital, after doctors were concerned about her rapidly deteriorating health.
In 2001, she was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) after smoking for 40 years. She was prescribed a myriad of medication but would ultimately end up in hospital.
“I have to be very careful,” she says. “I have severe breathing so can’t walk very far. I can’t afford to get colds or flus because my lungs exacerbate, and I’ll end up in hospital. I have to take my time with everything – I can’t lift anything heavy; I can’t ride a bicycle; I couldn’t walk from the library to The Warehouse. There’s just no way because my COPD is progressive.”
Last week, Mere was told by her doctor that they have taken her as far as they can medically.
“COPD is a nuisance of a thing to have. The first time I went into hospital with COPD, I ended up in ICU. They thought I was going to pass away. I was around 50 years old at the time and I’d been smoking since I was 12. There’s nothing else they can do for me now.
“But this is where Whaimua has come in. We have gym on Tuesdays and Fridays. Exercise is the most important thing for anyone with COPD. It helps you breathe because it gets oxygen into the blood. That’s what’s keeping you alive basically.
“My lungs are gone – they’ve had it. No way can I rely on my lungs anymore but exercising helps. I can do the exercises at the gym, come home and do housework and dinner, and then maybe walk to the corner of the street and back. I feel amazing afterwards.”
As a former sportsperson, Mere appreciates the exercise component of the Whaimua programme and keeping active.
“I now know that being a sportsperson kept me alive while I was smoking. I know the benefits of doing sports, or being involved in the gym, or swimming. I can’t speak highly enough of Whaimua, and what we do and what they do for us. As far as the physical is concerned, it’s just amazing. They have different exercises – your legs are going; your arms are going. It’s not just a matter of walking all the time.”
The Whaimua programme is now on its summer break. Mere says while she initially felt panicked and anxiety began to set in, she’s now confident she has the tools to manage her exercise on her own during the holiday.
“I have a car, which is a blessing. So, I need to be self-disciplined and go for walks through The Redwoods, or go swimming, and see what I can do as far as the gym is concerned.”
Mere says it’s not always easy for people with COPD to socialise in public with people who don’t have the illness. So, shortly after joining the Whaimua programme, she organised fortnightly coffee mornings at Te Aka Mauri (Rotorua Library) for the group, which will continue over the break.
“There’s a guy on the programme who was on his own and didn’t know how to cook. He just threw everything into one pot. I told him not to do that and made some soup and fried bread and took it to him. Then I showed him how to make some simple dishes. Sometimes there’s a need out there amongst our people but they’re not saying anything. These coffee mornings are a time to share and see how we can help each other.”
She is adamant that aside from her faith in the Lord and Whaimua, she wouldn’t have made it this far.
“That’s scary and gets me emotional when I think about it because that’s the truth of it. At this stage of my life, I’ve gone as far as I can with my COPD. They even had me on Hospice care.
“The physical component of Whaimua has allowed me to do what I can do – the coffee mornings, my housework, my washing. I can wash my blankets. Simple little tasks we all take for granted. For me, to even lift a blanket out to the line, I’d have to stop and get my breath back again. My line’s a couple of metres away. “But look at me now. It’s a good thing to look at, until you hear the history. I can’t stress enough, if it wasn’t for me being in Whaimua, I wouldn’t be here today. That’s the bottom line.”