SINCE Renarda and Matt Hooper’s daughter, Areiawa, died from an acute asthma attack in June 2013, the family have dealt with their grief by doing all they can ensure no other parents suffer as they have.
A hikoi along Warren Cole Walkway, in Whakatane, with whanau and friends last Saturday marked the sixth anniversary of their loss. Renarda says it is just one way the family keep their daughter’s memory alive.
They describe two-year-old Areiawa Harlow Hooper as a fun-loving toddler who loved the colour purple and singing You are my Sunshine.
At least twice a year, Renada, Matt, their three other children and “anyone else who can make it” wear special T-shirts and other clothing in Areiawa’s favourite colour and hold a Hikoi4Arei.
“We had the first hikoi for her one year angelversary, so we’ve just continued to do it every year for our girl,” Renarda says.
“It’s mainly for her angelversary and her birthday that we do this, though we do little hikoi around the year too, just whenever I’m at home.”
The Hoopers live in Hamilton, but are from Whakatane, where they still have family, and where Areiawa is buried at the whanau’s urupa.
“It’s our little way of reaching out to others and sharing the importance of learning about the condition, especially before winter comes. When they’re young it’s quite difficult for doctors to know if your child has asthma, so it’s just so parents can do their own research around it.
Renarda also does fundraising for the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation of New Zealand, particularly around the annual Better Breathe September fundraising event.
Her fundraising goes to the Waikato branch of the foundation, though she says they would love to reach out more to the Eastern Bay.
“It’s just part of what we do now, for baby, and we’ve been doing it ever since. It means something to us, to do this in her memory.
Renarda says the hikoi means a lot to their other children, too. “Areiawa’s little sister, Milan, was two months old when Arei passed and now she’s six, and then there’s Enzo who’s four and Tawaroa who turned two, two days after her angelversary.
“With my boy’s birthday being the day after it’s a bit bittersweet. But he’s a joy. He’s just like her. That’s what it’s about now, at this stage for us, is to share with the kids and for them to feel comfortable about doing this sort of stuff for her. They’re curious now, as to where Arei is, so celebrating baby, in this sort of light gives them a little bit of excitement.
You know, they get to have a birthday and so does their big sister. It’s important for us to do it this way. And they enjoy it too.
“It’s comforting for me to do this for my girl. I like to be a little bit out there for her, to share about my girl, share about our journey and share about what this has done to us. It’s all helping towards the cause, and that’s what we are all about.
Gone but not forgotten
AREIAWA began having breathing problems soon after her first birthday when she spent five days in hospital. Bronchiolitis, a viral infection and croup were all given as possible explanations.
From then on, whenever she caught a cold it triggered asthma symptoms and she had to regularly use a spacer to help unblock her airways.
Her mother says before she died, Areiawa had a bad cold but was otherwise her usual happy self. They monitored her as she slept and when she showed difficulty breathing in the early hours of the morning they rushed her to hospital.
Within 30 minutes of arriving at the hospital their little girl was gone. Medical staff tried for 50 minutes to revive her but were unsuccessful.