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Holistic healing – Whanau Ora at work

Angela Tuala’s story is one of trial and tribulation and heartache, but she has risen above it all so she and her four sons Lui-Xavier, Jahvannia, Hawaiki and Hokianga can live a safe, healthy and prosperous life. Angela and her boys have had many barriers placed in front of them, but they are finding ways around them, thanks to a dedicated team at The Fono, who care holistically for the Glen Eden family without judgement and always treating them with the utmost respect, abiding to core values of Whanau Ora.

Whanau Ora - Maori for family health - is a major contemporary indigenous health initiative in New Zealand driven by Maori cultural values that evolved out of the coalition between the National and Māori parties after the 2008 General Election.

The Fono are committed to Whanau Ora and its inclusive approach to providing services and opportunities to whanau, aiming to empower whanau as a whole, rather than focusing separately on individual whanau members.

Five years ago, Angela Tuala, of Maori (Te Rarawa, Te Arawa) and Samoan (Lotofaga, Le’auva’a) heritage, was on a very different path to the one she travels now.

She was morbidly obese, weighing in at 180kg and experiencing severe spinal pain.

Added to her own health concerns, her oldest child Lui-Xavier, who is now 10 years old, was diagnosed with level four Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and was struggling to control his behavioral impulses and to make friends.

Through several family member’s suggestions, Angela started going to The Fono West to utilise both their medical and social services.

“I had been hearing some really good things about The Fono and how they really looked after the families that used it,” Angela explains.

And after years of trying to find a doctor, who actually took the time to listen to her and dig a little deeper into her health concerns, she finally had some luck.

“In the past, doctors blamed my spinal problems on my weight and didn’t listen to me when I said I felt I needed them to look into it further and send me to a specialist,” she says.

“But at The Fono, I found the doctors didn’t judge me for what I looked like at the time and they went beyond my needs and would really listen to what I was saying.”

When The Fono team sent Angela to a specialist and to get an MRI, they discovered she did not have any discs in her lower spine, causing paralysis.

This pain became worse when she was pregnant with her twin sons Hawaiki and Hokianga, who are now three.

“On the scan, it looked as though I had been in a major accident but the damage was caused by domestic violence, trauma and abuse I suffered while growing up.”

Angela says the whole Fono team rallied together to support her and her family, and everyone in the team knew what was happening and when.

A treatment plan was set up and support workers ensured Angela attended her appointments.

If she was struggling to make an appointment, a support worker would take care of the kids to ensure she did make it.

Angela needs to have back surgery but has decided to delay it until her children are older as she does not have a lot of family support to help her during the long recovery period. She has recently separated with her partner.

Doctors are monitoring her condition and she is trying to look after her back naturally – she has lost 90kg, swims and eats well to try and stay in good health for her kids.

The Fono have also been a tremendous help with Lui-Xavier.

Through the Strengthening Families programme run by Raeburn House, a community development organisation with a focus on the wellbeing of diverse communities supported by the local Waitemata DHB, the agencies and people involved in caring for Lui-Xavier have met to work out a positive action plan for Lui-Xavier, who is learning to manage his ADHD.

“It can be emotionally draining for me seeing him go through such a tough time and I have been able to turn to the service for help … when his Dad and I separated, he went through counselling.

“We kept getting referred on to different services as we worked through the issues,” Angela says.

The Fono has been a godsend for Angela and her family, financially and logistically.

All four of her children use the medical facilities, “They’re all in there for one thing or another – asthma and eczema.

“When I ring up the chemist with a prescription, they already know exactly what we need. I’m like a walking chemist when we leave,” she quips.

Angela says she is now at a stage of her life, where she feels the worst is behind her.

It is now time to look forward, rebuild and do all she can for her sons - and to continue kicking goals.

“I want to return to work one day, but I need to get a doctor’s clearance. For now the focus is on my boys, and making sure they’re safe and sound at home and at school.

“We are on the up and up – without The Fono we wouldn’t be where we are now. We’ve overcome a lot of barriers with the help of The Fono. I cannot speak highly enough of them.”

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