Paula Hulburt

Paula Hulburt

Heath and sister Piper are very close but have been separated while Heath is in Starship Hospital. Photo: Supplied.

Little boy’s mystery illness baffles medical experts

A little Blenheim boy is battling a mystery illness that has almost cost him his life.

Heath Johnsen, 2, suffers from severe digestive issue which have left him unable to eat since he was just two months old.

The youngster has been flown to Starship Hospital by LifeFlight in Auckland where his worried family hope doctors can discover what is making him so sick.

His aunty Emma McKinnon says the family have fought hard for answers after Heath fell ill at just two months old.

“He’s lost almost two years of his life; it’s taken too long and we do feel a bit of anger about that.

Heath has spent more than 150 nights in Blenheim, Nelson and Christchurch hospitals over the last nine months. Photo: Supplied.
Heath has spent more than 150 nights in Blenheim, Nelson and Christchurch hospitals over the last nine months. Photo: Supplied.

“We knew something wasn’t right but were told he would grow out of it.

“He would scream in complete agony, but it wasn’t until he was 15 months old and weighed just 7kg that people started taking it seriously.”

Heath has spent more than 150 nights in Blenheim, Nelson and Christchurch hospitals over the last nine months.

But medical experts are still baffled, Emma says.

“Things were on the improve for a little while then it all came crashing down.

“Heath went from okay to being bad within hours,” she says.

A permanent IV line provides the nutrition he needs, but his health is still fragile.

Emma says he recently needed two blood transfusions in three weeks as he deteriorated.

“He’s baffled the medical teams in the South Island.

“Heath was also given another blood transfusion on Wednesday which helped perk him up.

“It has now become very serious and extremely concerning with that being the second one needed in just 3 weeks,” she says.

Heath’s mum Jess McKinnon, is in Auckland with him while his sister Piper Johnsen,6, stays at home with Emma.

His father Tiri Johnsen is spending the majority of his time in Blenheim, where is starting up his own business.

“Family is everything at a time like this and some days you would never get through if it wasn’t for each other.

“A journey with a sick child you would never wish on anyone and some days are beyond tough while other days bring so much joy,” Emma says.

The family need ongoing support to help them while they spend time with Heath.

“With Heath’s future at this stage being so unstable we can’t thank people enough for their generosity.

“Let’s hope Starship can offer some answers and reassurance our little man is okay.

“Any financial donation whether it be $5 or $50 is greatly accepted.”

Donations can be made to Grovetown School Parent Support Group (PSG), ASB 12 3167 0143314 00. Reference last name and/or donation. Use HEATH as the code.

EcoWorld’s trainee vet nurse Celine Moshiem holds the fledgeling Little Penguin. Photo: Supplied.

Little penguins rescued from drain disaster

A trapped penguin family, including a chick, have been rescued from a drain in Picton.

Staff from EcoWorld Aquarium & Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre rescued three Little Blue Penguins discovered stuck in a drain in the Interislander carpark in Picton last week.

The two adult penguins and a chick were taken to EcoWorld’s rehab centre.

Worried members of the public contacted the centre after hearing the trapped birds cry out.

EcoWorld’s director John Reuhman says the penguins all appear to okay.

But the chick has lost some of its downy coating as a result of being caught in the drain.

“We responded to several calls from members of the public who heard the Little Blues plaintive cries,” he says.

“We have checked their health. They seem to be in reasonable nick, and they are very feisty and bitey.”

The penguins will stay at the centre and be looked after until they have put on enough weight to be released back to the wild,

“We do need to get them back up to a healthy weight so they can survive in the wild.

“The chick has a reasonable coating of down.  But there are patches where the down has obviously been worn off being trapped in the drain,” says John.

EcoWorld Aquarium works with Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary where the Little Blues, once back to full health, will be released back into the wild.

John says the episode is a “classic example” of man meets nature.

“The Little Blues lucky escape is a classic example of man meets nature and nature comes off second best.

“Penguins live in dangerous places where it is hard for predators to get at them, but sometimes they get stuck,” he says.

Penguin breeding season is underway and staff at the animal rehabilitation centre expect to see more Little Penguins.

John says if anyone finds a sick or injured bird they should contact EcoWorld Aquarium or the Department of Conversation for advice.

“Take care Little Penguins are wild animals and they do bite,” he says.

Blenheim ward candidate Cyril Dawson is making a second bid to be elected on to Marlborough District Council. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Candidate’s bid to sway voters as election date looms

Blenheim ward candidates have made a bid to sway undecided voters as the cutoff date for voting edges closer.

With less than two weeks to go until voting closes for both Marlborough District Council and Nelson Marlborough Health, council candidates spoke to an audience of Grey Power members.

Around 50 members were at the Wesley Centre in Blenheim on Thursday to hear firsthand why each candidate believed a vote for them was the right one.

Pete Watson was missing from the line-up as he attended his father’s funeral.

But Tony Norman, who nominated Pete’s candidacy, stepped-up on his behalf to deliver the key points, including reining-in rates and better town planning.

“By my analysis he’s a thinker, a leader in his own way, got good ideas but very importantly he’s not afraid to speak up.

“He will I believe, poke his head above the parapet and challenge any bad decisions,” he says.

Each candidate was given two minutes to outline policies and give the audience some background information about themselves.

The majority spoke up for revitalisation of the central business district and also for protecting the environment.

Cyril Dawson, who’s campaigned under the slogan ‘Grassroots Ratepayer’ spoke candidly about his bid to support people on lower incomes.

“I’m a bit peeved about how our money is being spent. I open my own rates bill and think ‘fudge cakes.’ Council has to prioritise where our money is spent,” he says.

First time candidates such Deborah Dalliessi, Matt Flight, Gerry Roodakker, and Meg Martin spoke passionately about the changes they wanted to see.

Gerry says he was standing in a bid to repay the support he has been given over the years.

He says that now he is retired he has ‘all the time in the world’ to help.

“The reason I am standing is to give back to all those people who have supported me throughout the years.”

Mayoral candidate and current councilor Jamie Arbuckle was greeted with strong applause as he outlined his plans.

“I will actually stand up and argue for you the people,” he says.

He added that while he was the youngest candidates, he was also one of the most experienced with nine years of experience.

First time candidate Deborah Dalliessi spoke about her passion for helping.

“My passion is aging well. If you elect me, I will go beyond the call of duty. I have had the privilege of seeing what it’s like to age … I ask you to vote for a strong woman and a strong advocate for you.”

The session ended with candidates answering questions already given to them by Grey Power Marlborough members.

Voting closes on 12 October at 12pm.

Project coordinator Alec McNeil is overseeing a nationwide initiative which could see people paid to recycle. Photo: Matt Brown.

Cash for trash

Marlborough could help lead the way in a national bid to help boost recycling levels.

The council’s solid waste manager Alec McNeil will oversee a pioneering project which could see people paid to drop off empty drink containers.

And he believes Marlburians will be quick to take up the initiative.

“Marlborough is used to source separation of recycling so the possibility of a future Container Recycle Scheme (CRS) should complement and add to our existing approach,” he says.

Council's solid waste manager Alec McNeil believes Marlburians will be quick to take up the initiative. Photo: Matt Brown.
Council’s solid waste manager Alec McNeil believes Marlburians will be quick to take up the initiative. Photo: Matt Brown.

Under the scheme, which was unveiled last week, plastic, glass and aluminium drink containers will carry a refundable deposit, potentially between 5-20 cents each.

Helping people cash in on their empties could be key to boosting recycling levels.

Alec says he believes any initiative would rely on being readily available.

“A key focus of the design will be ensuring equity of service provision across NZ that affords all communities the opportunity to engage with the system,” he says.

“At a more strategic level a CRS changes the way we think about containers by reintroducing a value back into the material”.

Marlborough and Auckland councils will carry out the project design together following a government funding boost of almost $1 million.

Alec, who is project coordinator and deputy spokesman is a trustee on the Agrecovery Foundation Trust Board.

He says the scheme will help keeps useful resources out of landfills and has the potential to create new jobs.

The two councils will work with the Ministry for the Environment and others including the beverage, packaging and recycling industries, councils, retailers, charitable organisations, Māori and consumer representatives.

The application was initiated from involvement with the National Resource Recovery Group (NRR).

The NRR was convened by the Ministry for the Environment to consider a response to the recycling challenges facing NZ.

“In lieu of the contraction of markets particularly post the ‘National Sword’ policy implemented by China,” Alec says.

China has introduced strict rules around importing solid wastes as raw materials. The policy bans various plastic, paper and solid waste.

Alec says a CRS scheme would impact on material flow.

“Auckland and Marlborough councils offered to submit an application to the waste minimisation fund to facilitate a working group that would design a CRS for NZ.“

A final design is due to be presented to the Government by August 2020 and rolled out in 2022.

Café Herb and Olive owner Richard Barton with 10-year-old fox terrier Pepe. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Paws clause gives dog-friendly businesses mark of approval

Dog-friendly businesses are set to get the paws-up, displaying special stickers where pooches are welcome.

For the first time in decades, dogs are allowed in Blenheim’s town centre from Tuesday as a bylaw banning them is lifted for a month.

And a specially made paw print sticker will go up in businesses around town where pooches are permitted.

For Richard Barton from café Herb & Olive, allowing dogs in with customers was an easy decision to make.

“I have no problem with dogs being outside,” he says.

The 65th Black Hawk National Dog Show gets underway in Blenheim between 2 and 5 October.

With up to 1200 dogs expected at the event, the by law will be lifted for the whole month.

The Blenheim Business Association (BBA) have organised the stickers which feature a black paw print with a heart in it.

These ‘dog friendly’ stickers make it easy for those businesses welcoming dogs in the town centre to be clearly seen.

BBA spokeswoman Caroline Stone says the association supports the trial.

“We need to wait and see how the trial goes but we support the trial as bylaws need to be revisited on a regular basis as the world changes.

“We’re really happy with the support from CBD businesses.

“We’ve had nothing but positive feedback on the sticker initiative – and the feedback from the National Dog Show competitors via Facebook has been awesome too,” she says.

Trial rules state that all dogs must be on a leash and under control.

Owners must clean up after their dogs. Failure to do so could result in a $300 fine.


Black Hawk 2019 National Dog Show

National Breed Show – Wed 2 to Sat 5 Oct, Stadium 2000
Obedience Show – Thu 3 to Sat 5 Oct, Convention Centre
Agility Comp – Sat 5 – Sun 6 Oct, Rewi Murray Polo Grounds

Susana Doris Evalu-Tyrell will make more than 100 lei to welcome crew members to Picton. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Call for flotilla flowers for handmade garlands

Hundreds of bright blooms are needed to welcome crew members as they arrive in Picton to celebrate Tui 250.

Picton woman Susana Doris Evalu-Tyrell has volunteered to hand-make more than 100 lei for each crew member arriving in Marlborough.

And to stop the flowers from wilting before the big day itself, she will make all the garlands in just 24 hours.

Now calendulas of all colours are needed to help ensure there are enough to make the garlands.

It’s a way of ensuring everyone feel welcome, Susana says.

“Red, purple, yellow and white would be nice as these colours will be more vibrant and more welcoming,” she says.

A national flotilla of tall ships and waka are at the centre of the Tuia 250 commemorations to mark the first encounters of note between Māori and Europeans.

It is 250 years since Captain Cook and his ship Endeavour arrived at Ships Cove/Meretoto.

For volunteer the moment is worth marking.

“I grew up making lei in Samoa for special occasions and it [the idea] all began when I I started a Pasifika group along with another parent, Matt Manu-Murrell at Picton School.

“Something just clicked in my head, I want to do something that relates to me and my culture and who I am as a person,” she says.

Vessels taking part in the Tuia 250 Voyage, which is due to land in Tōtaranui/Queen Charlotte Sound on 21 November 21, with a huge community welcome planned for the Picton Foreshore on Friday 22 November.

Each garland takes around ten minutes to make using a needle and thread, says Susana who has two children at Picton School, aged 6 and 8 years old.

She learnt the art as a child and says blending different colours together will help portray what Tuia 250 is all about.

“The idea behind having all the different colours is it shows the different cultures and different people from different places who will be in Picton,” she says.

“I have lived in Picton for two years and it is a great place. I am looking forward to it and want to make a difference.”

If you have any flowers available to donate, please email [email protected]

Year 9 student Brylee Evans, left, and year 13 pupil Tatiana Manoa think the Stars programme will be a big success. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Girls’ College students shoot for the Stars

A pilot programme geared towards helping new students settle in secondary school has been unveiled in Marlborough.

From next year, Marlborough Girls’ College students will benefit from the introduction of the Graeme Dingle Foundation Marlborough’s “Stars” programme.

The initiative will see incoming Year 9 students paired up with senior students in a bid to make the transition easier.

Local GP, Dr Rachel Inder has been one of the instigators behind the scheme.

Working together with the team from the Graeme Dingle Foundation and Marlborough Girls’ College, Rachel says they has been looking at ways to boost health and well-being among students.

“We have been looking at various ways we can enhance the health and wellbeing of Marlborough students.

“The Stars programme is exactly the solution we have been looking for, as it builds trusting relationships that enables the students to reach out to each other in times of need,” she says.

Graeme Dingle Foundation Marlborough regional manager Kelvin Watt says the initiative is the “missing piece of the puzzle” for junior college students.

“Stars is the next step of a student’s journey as they move on into secondary school.

“It strengthens young people for that tricky transition into secondary school – through training and supporting older students to mentor and walk alongside the new Year 9s,” he says.

Approximately 250 Year 9 students, and 50 seniors will be involved in the scheme which will take three parts.

An adventure camp will kickstart the programme to help develop relationships and teamwork, followed by peer mentoring and a community project.

Marlborough Girls’ College principal, Mary-Jeanne Lynch says she believes students will benefit from increased self-confidence and resilience.

It will help also help students develop a sense of responsibility and connectedness to the school and the wider community, she says.

“It’s a giant win-win and we are over the moon to be able to start the pilot next year.”

Cats on a Blenheim property have been suffering say animal advocates. Photo: Supplied.

House of horrors for neglected cats

Starving, ill and flea-infested cats will continue to suffer and die as authorities fail to act warn animal charity bosses.

Marlborough Dog Pawz, which care for both cats and dogs, has hit out at both the SPCA and Marlborough District Council over their failure to act.

The central Blenheim home has around nine cats living in filth and faeces, says charity co-founder Michelle Masden.

Cats on a Blenheim property have been suffering say animal advocates. Photo: Supplied.
Cats on a Blenheim property have been suffering say animal advocates. Photo: Supplied.

She has implored both councillors and SPCA to act and for help to be given to the homeowner.

But she says her pleas are falling on “deaf ears”.

“I feel like it is in the too hard basket and no one wants to actually try, the place hasn’t changed since January and is still a health hazard.

“We did go knock on the door on one occasion to see if we could help with desexing or any other sick kittens etc.

“That is when I found a little kitten lying in the garden covered in flies and crawling with fleas like I have never seen before, there was also a dead cat by the garage.

“I am not sure what you actually have to do to get someone to take action.

“We have taken six or seven [cats] from the property and four were put down as they were past helping,” she says.

Cats on a Blenheim property have been suffering say animal advocates. Photo: Supplied.
Cats on a Blenheim property have been suffering say animal advocates. Photo: Supplied.

The cats first came to the charity’s attention in January. They reported their urgent concerns to the SPCA.

After a four day wait, officials showed up at the house, Michelle says.

“The smell was so bad it almost made me sick, there was also a dead cat by the garage. SPCA know this property and actually took 8 cats from there last year but haven’t followed up since.

“It breaks my heart totally.”

The charity has been calling for a meeting with council staff, including Marlborough Mayor John Leggett.

But despite assurances a meeting would happen, nothing has been confirmed yet, though says councillor and mayoral candidate Jamie Arbuckle has been in contact.

“The owner of the property will not de sex any cats or let the SPCA remove any, this shouldn’t be a multi choice it needs to be enforced and acted upon.

“Kitten season is yet again here and there will be more emaciated kittens very soon.“The property owner needs support and that’s something that isn’t being offered here, the situation is now like a bad joke and i feel like a broken record.

“I know the SPCA and council want me to just disappear, but I won’t, these fur babies have no voice.

A spokesman from Marlborough District Council says the property had been inspected.

“Council inspected the property again on 4 September – there were four cats present and no concerns regarding their health or well-being. There have been no complaints from the neighbours.”

A diagnosis of Alzheimers changes life for the patient and their family. Photo: Models/Supplied.

A life-changing diagnosis – living with Alzheimers

September is World Alzheimers Month.  Below, a husband talks about his wife’s diagnosis and how it has changed their lives.

There are still many good days, moments the devoted couple of 60 years can enjoy ordinary moments they used to take for granted.

For a Marlborough husband and wife, who asked not to be named, an uneventful trip to the supermarket, or even watching TV and laughing together has taken on a special significance.

A diagnosis of Alzheimers for the wife earlier this year changed both their lives in an instance.

“It’s a real defining point, especially for the patient, I hate that word, but use it anyway.

“Once that word, Alzheimers, comes up, you’ve crossed the Rubicon and can’t go back. It took a year to come to terms with it,” he says.

Dementia affects nearly 80 per cent of New Zealanders in some way.

Early warning signs include forgetting conversations or denying they took place, repetition, misplacing items and forgetting where to find household objects.

The disease affects whole families. Models/Supplied.

There is a gradual decrease in socialisation and, latterly, confusion over family, time and place.

For the husband, looking back, the signs were all there.

“The first signs began about five years ago. She was forgetting conversations or that we were going out for tea and would say I hadn’t told her.

“I had a feeling that this was more than just forgetting things, something was out of kilter but as I didn’t really know what was going on, I had to find a way to adjust.

“The worst thing for me, apart from the terrible time my wife is going through, is that there are two of us in this situation. I’ve no experience with this and the impact is huge,” he says.

One of the first tasks he undertook was to contact Alzheimers Marlborough.

The support and information they have provided has proven invaluable, he says.

Almost 70,000 Kiwis are living with dementia. More than 170,000 Kiwis will be living with dementia by 2050

Dementia also impacts women at a higher rate, showing a 30 per cent greater prevalence.

In a cruel twist of fate, the slow progress of the disease in this case means the woman in question is aware of the changes and the likely course the illness will take.

“She’s aware [of what’s happening]. It would be easier if she wasn’t. Being aware and having to come to terms with it is the difficulty,” her husband says.

“Between 70 and 80 per cent of the time we can carry on a semblance of a real life.

“No two days are the same. There may be two days when it’s calm and everything is nice and peaceful. You learn to make the most of the good days.

“My wife still has hope from time to time and will sometimes think that she’s not actually as bad as she was.

“I can’t hope like that,as I know that this condition is irreversible

Likening the illness to a photograph album that is gradually losing its pictures, the retired husband says routine is key when it comes to helping minimise distress.

Where once this committed couple were ardent travelers, the illness has effectively clipped their wings.

“Travel is an upsetter. Travel was a big and important part of our lives, it’s still something she sometimes looks forward to but also has the nouse to know that long distance travel is not an option anymore.”

Alzheimers NZ represents people living with dementia at a national level.

The organisation provides information and resources, advocates for high quality services, and promotes research about prevention, treatment, cure and care.

Being open with the couple’s children, all of whom live overseas, the couple’s friends and neighbours has helped.

There is no point in pretending it’s not happening, he says.

But having to be selective about what information he passes onto his wife has been “difficult”.

“The subterfuge is difficult. Sometimes you have to simply let them believe wholly that something that isn’t true is true or indulge in small white lies.

“I feel bad about that but after a while you get used to it, you do. What you’re doing all the time is thinking for two people,” he says.

Picking his battles has proven key.

“Sometimes at the supermarket we’ll end up with three items of the same thing, it doesn’t really matter if she’s happy.

“You need to choose your time to walk away. If there’s a hint of an argument, her focus narrows and becomes more self centred.

“I’m more often in the wrong now and the simple thing is to become the bigger person. The most important thing for me now as the ‘carer’  is to have time out to relax or indulge in another activity.

“You cut your losses and give in if it doesn’t really matter,” he says.

The future is very much on his mind and ultimately, he knows there is no happy ending.

“I think about it all the time, it’d be foolish if I didn’t.

“You can’t make any definitive plans you can only take guesses. You do have to think about the ultimate; there’s no answer to that at this stage.

“I just have to keep an open mind; hope for the best but know to expect the worst. For further information, help or advice visit or contact 03 577 6172.

Alzheimers Marlborough are holding a Memory Walk on Saturday 21 September, leaving the Munro Street Car Park at 10:00am. Registration is completely free and can be made prior to the day by phoning the office – 577 6172. Wear something purple. The Memory Walk is for people of all ages and abilities to remember family and community members that have been or are affected by dementia.


Lawyer Dharshini Ramanathan has won a scholarship towards her studies. Photo: Supplied.

Lawyer wins Adult Literacy scholarship

A lawyer with a passion for literacy has won a scholarship towards study costs as she learns how to help others read and write.

Dharshini Ramanathan is the first recipient of the 2019 inaugural Literacy Aotearoa Blenheim Pat Robbins Zonta Scholarship.

The $500 scholarship is awarded to a female Maori, Pasifika or Youth trainee tutor in Blenheim to assist with their adult literacy tutor training studies.

Dharshini, who is a lawyer with a Masters of Law degree, works for Community Law Marlborough. During her own time, she is studying towards a New Zealand Certificate in Adult and Tertiary Teaching at level 4.

“I think everyone should be able to read, write and do maths. I want to help people learn how to get there,” she says.

The Pat Robbins Zonta Scholarship is awarded in memory of Zonta Club Marlborough foundation member, Pat Robbins who died in 2002.

She was a pivotal figure in pushing for adult literacy classes in Marlborough and spent 40 years helping others achieve their goals.

Zonta aims to raise the status of women throughout the world and educationally, economically and politically enable them to achieve their goals.