Wiremu Rawiri spent the weekend buying a new outfit to wear to his school ball. Instead, he will be wearing it to his tangi.
The popular year 12 student and oldest of three brothers at Te Aute College in Hawke's Bay died after a severe asthma attack on Monday morning. He had turned 17 just a week earlier.
Uncle Shane Swales was among a large group who made their way from Tauranga to collect Wiremu's body yesterday and return it to lie in Huria Marae before his tangi.
Wiremu, a boarder at the Maori boys' college near Hastings, suffered the attack while at its boarding hostel.
He was able to tell hostel staff he was having an attack, and an ambulance was called immediately. Despite working on him for 45 minutes, paramedics were unable to revive him.
Mr Swales said Wiremu had developed a love of kapa haka and had recently taken time off college to compete in the national competition with a group from his iwi, Ngati Ranginui.
"His involvement with that group had really given him a new lease of life and his health picked up due to the fitness level he needed to have to compete at that level," Mr Swales said.
"His asthma has been a problem his whole life, but he was looking really well and happy and enjoying school."
Wiremu was due to go to his college ball on Saturday. "He spent the weekend getting himself a new ball outfit. I think he'll be dressed in it for his sendoff," Mr Swales said.
"Wiremu was one of those kids that, despite being badly affected by the asthma, he always gave everything a go. He was really very popular. There's six carloads of us whanau who've come down to pick him up and take him home."
College commissioner Elizabeth Ellis said Wiremu was a "lovely, lovely boy" who had been very excited about the ball, and was planning to become a civil engineer.
He had been at Te Aute for four years and has two brothers at the college, Teuarangi, in year 11, and Tetane in year 9.
"It's a sad time for everyone, but there is a very strong sense of brotherhood here. The boys are very resilient. There is a remarkable amount of goodwill in our community toward this school, and they are very supportive."
A crowd of about 150 pupils and family packed into the Central Hawke's Bay funeral home for a service yesterday evening. After waiata and a large haka, Wiremu's casket was carried by classmates to a hearse that would take him home.
Te Aute College first opened in 1854. Old boys include Sir Apirana Ngata, Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples, and All Black Piri Weepu.
New Zealand has one of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the world, with one in four children suffering from the illness. An average of 52 people die from it each year. Almost half of about 600,000 asthma sufferers in New Zealand are children under 15.
The latest death prompted a warning from Asthma Foundation medical adviser Tristram Ingham, who said people were often surprised that the illness could kill.
"We are asking New Zealanders who have children with asthma to make sure they keep using their medication as prescribed, and keep their asthma under control at all times."
While the prevalence of asthma is the same for Maori and non-Maori children, Maori children show more symptoms and require hospitalisation twice as often as non-Maori.
- © Fairfax NZ News