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BOP crash survivor grateful to be alive

Thomas Mitai, centre, with Tauranga Hospital ICU Clinical Nurse Manager Chris Southerwood ,left, and Health Care Assistant Tracy Penwarden, right.

Thomas Mitai is lucky to be alive and he’s grateful.

In February, the prominent and talented singer, kapa haka performer, film maker, member of Ringatū church and manager of Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi Tech Pā Studio was on his way to work when he had a head-on car crash.

The crash happened on a SH2/Wainui Road, between Ōpōtiki and Whakatāne.

Thomas suffered multiple injuries including eight fractured ribs, punctured lungs, a lacerated spleen, hematoma on his liver, a broken leg and several cuts.

“I just came around the corner and the other car was on the wrong side of the road. They were tourists, they were lucky, they weren’t badly injured.

“I managed to stay conscious, but I was in a bad way. I couldn’t breathe and I lost a lot of blood,” says Thomas.

He was taken to Whakatāne Hospital and transferred to the Intensive Care Unit at Tauranga Hospital.

“I had a nasal oxygen tube to help me breathe and at some stage I had two blood transfusions.”

The crash happened just weeks out from Te Matatini Kapa Haka Festival; New Zealand’s bi-annual kapa haka showcase.

When word got round that Thomas, a key talent in the Ōpōtiki Mai Tawhiti group and well known in the wider kapa haka movement had been in a major car crash, people came from all over the country to see him.

“I have huge respect for those who treated and cared for me in hospital. They accepted and acknowledged my Māoritanga, Ringatū faith and whānaungatanga.

"Having my whānau and friends at my bedside gave me strength. For me, that was everything and a key part of my recovery.”

Every evening Thomas was in hospital, his Dad, Richard, a Tohunga of Ringatū would hold a karakia at his bedside. Staff and patients would gather around as well.

There was waiata too. Blessed with a baritone voice, Thomas is no stranger to performing solo or as a duet at major sporting and cultural events across the country.

“I’d crumble if I couldn’t sing, it’s who I am. Their presence and hearing them sing while I rested really lifted my spirit.”

Recently Thomas returned to the hospital bringing morning tea for staff and gifting a carved waka hoe (paddle) to ICU as a symbol of his gratitude for the care he’d received.

Thomas says the message etched on the waka hoe is one for all.

“Kia mau ki tō hoe. E hoe tō waka. Hold on to your paddle. Continue your journey.”

Thomas is having physiotherapy as he continues his journey to recovery. The crash has also made him think about other things he can do to improve his health.

“I’m more mindful about exercise and eating well. I’ve stopped drinking so many fizzy drinks and since the crash I’ve lost about 30 kilos.”

Ehara taku toa, he takitahi, he toa takitini.

My success should not be bestowed onto me alone, as it was not individual success but success of a collective.

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