Hangi to help stricken friend

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True friends . . . Ranui Wharepapa (left), of Wakari, is organising a fundraising hangi in Dunedin today to support her best friend Keri-Lee Turner-Sooalo, of Invercargill, who is battling a chronic neurological condition. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE

A Dunedin woman organised a hangi yesterday to raise funds to help her best friend battle a chronic neurological condition.

Ranui Wharepapa and Keri-Lee Turner-Sooalo were teenagers when they met at a dance party in Dunedin about 25 years ago.

“We clicked and got along and still do,” Miss Wharepapa said.

“Always,” Mrs Turner-Sooalo said.

Miss Wharepapa pre-sold 200 hangi meals to be served at Araiteuru Marae, in Wakari.

People at the sold-out event dined on pork, chicken, mutton, kumara, pumpkin, potato, stuffing, fried bread and a “sneaky treat”.

The money raised would help her sick friend get better.

Mrs Turner-Sooalo said she was born and raised in Dunedin but love took her to Southland.

She now lives with her husband, Paul Sooalo, and their three children – aged 19, 14 and 5 – in Invercargill.

Since 2012 she has struggled with symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, migraines and vertigo as doctors grappled for a diagnosis.

As the years passed, her symptoms got worse and an MRI scan about four years ago revealed she had a chronic neurological condition, hydrocephalus – “a large ball of fluid” on her brain.

She was booked in for surgery in February this year but was rushed to Dunedin Hospital in October last year.

The next day in hospital, she had a sudden cardiac arrest, stopped breathing and was rushed in for emergency surgery.

The surgery was followed by a nearly three-week stay in intensive care and then rehabilitation in the ISIS Centre at Wakari Hospital until her discharge last week.

The various surgeries she has had include nine spinal taps and the insertion of shunts in her head and spine to drain fluid.

Keri-Lee Turner-Sooalo shows a scar on the back of her heard, in the intensive care unit in Dunedin Hospital in January.

Mr Sooalo said while his wife was in hospital she missed celebrating three milestones – her son’s 5th birthday, her own 40th birthday and their 10-year wedding anniversary.

“We dined on two flavours of jelly in hospital to celebrate the three occasions,” he laughs.

He thanked Miss Wharepapa for her “solid friendship” with his wife and for organising the hangi today.

He praised the staff at ISIS and applauded his “amazing” wife for maintaining a positive attitude in tough times.

Mrs Turner-Sooalo said she remained positive by focusing on returning to her children and “being me again”.

Due to the condition, she had to leave her sales position at Big Save Furniture in Invercargill.

“I loved my job.”

Mr Sooalo said life as the family knew it had changed but support from “whanau and amazing friends” had helped them get through.

‘We can’t thank people enough for giving so much kai for the hangi and donations. It makes you feel so humble – it blows us away.”

Mrs Turner-Sooalo agreed.

“It makes you feel you are part of a good positive community.”