Flight a ‘lifesaver’ for East Coast rugby powerhouse

Ruatoria rugby powerhouse Ario Rewi says that, for her, a flight on the Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter was the difference between life and death.

Looking back to mid-2022, Ruatoria woman Ario Rewi thought she was on a roll.

A respected rugby coach and player, the then-29-year-old was deeply involved as an advocate for rugby – particularly women’s rugby – on the East Coast. What’s more, Ario had devoted herself to getting in peak condition to become a police officer, and as a former sufferer of febrile epilepsy, was just months away from being five-year seizure-free, the benchmark needed to enter the Royal New Zealand Police College. That bright future was in her grasp, she thought, to the extent that, as one of five faces chosen to front NZ Police’s recruitment drive aimed at Māori women, her video went viral as viewers embraced her story.

Then it all went wrong.

In July and against her better judgement, Ario brushed off a bad chest infection to play for her beloved Ruatoria City rugby club in the Ngāti Porou East Coast Rugby Union’s women’s competition.
She didn’t want to let her team-mates down, she said, while also fessing up to an ultra-competitive spirit.

And she paid a terrible price.

Upon waking the next morning she could not breathe and was plunged into status epilepticus, suffering nine seizures in the 27-kilometre St John Ambulance journey to Te Puia Springs Hospital.
There, Ario was met by the Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter crew whose Critical Care Flight Paramedic put her in an induced coma and ventilated her to help her breathe, before she was whisked her off to Waikato Hospital, where she spent a week in the Intensive Care Unit.

It was a traumatic event for Ario Rewi and her whanau . . . one still making itself felt due to the impact the seizures had on the muscles behind her eyes; in ongoing poor lung function; and in the risk of head trauma that is still keeping her off the rugby field. And because of her medical event Ario – pictured with daughter Marangairoa – has had to hit the reset button, starting the goal to reach five years seizure-free all over again.

While family comes first for the mother of four-year-old Marangairoa and Ngarongotoa, aged nine, she remains committed to both rugby and her dream of joining the NZ Police force.
For the moment, though, she’s just happy to be here.

“I can’t thank the rescue helicopter service and crew enough,” she said, “they saved my life.”

“I would not be here without them and the support they provided alongside the incredible St John Ambulance staff.”

Have you been uplifted by the Trust Tairawhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter some time in the past decade? If so, we would love to tell your story. We won’t breach your privacy by direct contact but would love it if you’d get in touch (comms@eastlandrescue.co.nz) and we’ll be right back at you.