When Mohi Waihi says he has a woman’s heart he means it.
The long-time custodian at Upper Hutt’s Orongomai Marae received the heart of a 40-year-old woman in a transplant operation in August 2005.
With a smile he says his new heart has done so well because it came from a woman.
He was 60 at the time and doesn’t know any more about the donor, but assumes she probably died in an accident.
Old heart goes to Parliament
He made international news in 2010 when he took his old heart, specially preserved and contained in a plastic bag, along with him to the Maori Affairs Select Committee at Parliament. The committee was considering a tobacco law change and Mohi wanted to share his story.
A photo of Mohi, dressed in a suit and tie for the occasion, with his old heart that went around the world.
At the time he was also interviewed by Mana Magazine editor, Derek Fox (whom he attended school with), about the visit the Parliament and why he needed a transplant.
Growing up with a heart deficiency
Mohi, now 72, was one of 11 siblings who grew up on a small dairy farm in Ruatorea in the East Coast and is of Ngati Porou and Kahungunu tribal affiliation.
He moved to Trentham, Upper Hutt, at 17 to begin an apprenticeship at the Railways Workshops in Woburn, Lower Hutt.
He began smoking at 19, part of a culture of rugby, racing, beer and smoking.
After 40 years he could hardly walk because his breathing had become so difficult.
After surviving five heart attacks he agreed to go on the transplant waiting list because he wanted to be around to see his mokopuna grow up.
He reckons the ambulance was called to his home at the marae nearly every month over that time.
And, of course, he gave up smoking, although he wasn’t a heavy smoker.
His son helped him look after the marae and medication kept him alive while he waited for a donor.
After 18 months a match was found, and Mohi was flown by air ambulance to Auckland where the transplant took place during an eight-hour operation.
When his old heart was examined, a small defect was found, the principal cause of his problems rather than the smoking. It explained why he could never run as fast as other children when he was young.
There weren’t tests available then that would have found the defect.
None of my siblings has had heart problems,” he says.
Mohi then took the old heart with him to several speaking engagements.
At Kapiti College he spoke to a group of about 250 students to discourage them from smoking. He invited those brave enough to view the old heart to see it in a side room. He says they all went in.
He also took the heart to Hutt Hospital several times so nurses could see it. Eventually, he took it back to the hospital and asked them to dispose of it appropriately.
Work at the Marae
These days Mohi is kept busy at the marae, especially co-ordinating bookings for the many people and school groups who visit.
In March, Orongomai was given an extensive makeover for the Marae DIY programme, which will screen later in the year on TV3.
Work included repainting the buildings, a new perimeter fence, a rebuilt covered visitors’ entrance, and new paving, lawns and plantings.
Orongomai is an urban marae dating from the 1970s. Carvings in its wharenui, Kahukura, represent not only all New Zealand iwi but also Pasifika and all other immigrants.
Transplant brings new life
Mohi says the transplant has given him new life.
If it wasn’t for the transplant I wouldn’t be here, that’s for real.”
Mohi also had hip replacements in 1997 and 2011.
He takes around 30 pills a day. Every year he travels to Auckland for a check-up, which also provides him a catch-up with two Rotorua transplant patients who received new hearts at around the same time he got his.
Mohi also sees a cardiologist at Hutt Hospital every year.
Since the transplant his singing has improved. But he credits improved breathing rather than the feminine influence of a woman’s heart!
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