Life-saving defibrillators in Whanganui Marae

Rural communities in Whanganui have a fighting chance thanks to life-saving defibrillators being installed in some local marae.

Published: Rāhina, 19 Hakihea, 2022 | Monday, 19 December 2022

"I saw that many of our older kaumatua are living quite a distance from the hospital and if they had a heart attack it could be fatal if the ambulance took too long to get to them,” says Dave Marshall. 

Dave Marshall (Ngāti Pamoana and Te Atihaunui a Paparangi) is back living in Whanganui after being overseas, because he wants to be closer to his mokopuna. 

He noticed that whānau living upriver are more vulnerable in an emergency situation, because they are further away from medical services available in the city. 

“Māori need access to defibs as it’s an essential life saving piece of equipment, so I thought why not install them at each marae for whānau to use.”  

An automated external defibrillator or AED or defib as it is more commonly called, is a lightweight portable device that delivers an electric shock through the chest to the heart. The shock can potentially stop an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and allow a normal rhythm to resume following sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). According to St John, SCA is one of the leading causes of death in New Zealand. 

Dave’s objective was to install a minimum of four devices and approached local businesses, Council, iwi organisations and charitable trusts, to sponsor these devices which cost about $2,500 each. 

Dave was able to obtain support from Te Oranganui, Te Puni Kokiri (Te Tai Hauauru) through Kāinga Rua funding, Te Whawhaki Trust – (Ngā Tangata Tiaki o Whanganui), and Morikau Incorporation. Some Marae also sought separate funding to support the installation of defibs.  

Dave has now installed defibs in Marae in the wider Whanganui area including Matahiwi Marae, Atene Marae, Te Ao Hou Marae (Aramoho), Putiki Marae (at Putiki), Rangahaua Marae in Bell Street, Kai Iwi Marae, Tauranga Ika Marae, (Nukumaru) and one defib at Te Poho o Tuariki, Te Rūnanga o Ngā Wairiki Ngāti Apa in Marton.  

Dave’s aim is that eventually all marae on the River Road will have a defib, as further demand comes from marae around the country. He says, “I am passionate about the kaupapa and I want to give back to the whānau, people and the river in return for the cherished memories I have as a child at Koriniti.”   

Dave will engage with marae in the region, finding out where best to place the defibs and facilitates training before installation. Alongside the installation of the defib itself is the importance of training community members in first aid so they know how to use it.  

He has adapted CPR and defib first aid training to suit marae, including shortened training with kaumatua and tamariki, and has engaged former paramedics to deliver the training in a way which is culturally appropriate for Māori. All trainers are Māori, and training is held on the marae to make it a comfortable experience for participants. 

In the process, Dave is learning a lot about what is happening on local marae. He says the hardest part is finding that some marae are non-compliant with standards around fire alarms, first aid kits or even in places, drinking water. So he is extending his mahi to produce a list of the needs of each marae for the Kāinga Rua team and others, and supporting the development of marae emergency plans for 10 marae.  

The Te Puni Kōkiri Kāinga Rua fund helps develop marae emergency preparedness and resilience. With the impacts of climate change being felt by Māori communities, the Kainga Rua fund is growing in importance.  

Dave said that working with marae is extremely rewarding for him: “It’s growing me. I’m engaging with marae trusts and communities and I can see it’s rewarding for our whānau, marae, and for me too. This is making me passionate seeing the result. The most special part is when I walk away from each marae after installing a defib, knowing our whānau are prepared.”