A chance for Jai to play

00:29, Jul 10 2014
Jai Ihaka
GAINING INDEPENDENCE: Jai Ihaka, 4, needs a safe playground of his own after a traumatic brain injury left him unable to partake in physical activities in case he knocks his head again.

What was meant to be a fun trip to the playground resulted in a near-death experience for Jai Ihaka after a fall left him with extensive brain injuries.

It's believed the four-year-old fell off a jungle gym and on to his head at Hart Domain in Henderson, West Auckland, July last year, causing a rupture in his brain's main artery.

The climbing frame was removed but Jai was left with a catastrophic severe brain injury.

Loz and Tom
HELPING OUT: Loz and Tom.

Doctors said he'd never walk or talk again, mum Nicky Ihaka recalls.

"By the time my son got to Starship Hospital it was as if he was dead," she says.

"He wasn't breathing, his heart had slowed right down and doctors likened his brain to a bowl of jelly.


"It was a nightmare."

Jai, aged three at the time, underwent a craniotomy to remove a haemotoma and doctors said he had a 5 per cent chance of surviving the operation, Ihaka says.

Yet he beat the odds and after spending two weeks in a coma, a week on life support and extensive rehabilitation, he's back at his Henderson home, laughing and playing with his three siblings.

The fall hasn't left Jai unaffected though and he can't join his buddies on the playground again in case he knocks his head.

So Ihaka wants to give her son independence by building his very own safe play area including a hut and sandpit in the front yard.

"He's lost a lot - he will never live like a typical four-year-old and I want to give him as much of a normal childhood as possible," she says.

Jai's caregiver Jeanne Allen says a playground will enhance his co-ordination skills.

"It will give him the freedom to be a child and be outside playing in the dirt.

"He'll be able to have a bit more of a normal life, be messy and do what boys like to do," she says.

ACC will build a fence to enclose the area and Ihaka hopes construction of the playground will follow in the coming months.

Jai has cognitive behavioural issues and requires ongoing therapy, around-the-clock help from caregivers and a special education teacher at Barnardos' daycare.

Ihaka says it's difficult adjusting to a new lifestyle.

"He's not the same smart, funny little boy he was but he is a little miracle," she says.


The Block NZ contestants Tom and Loz Heaphy met the Ihaka family while competing in the home renovation show last year.

The Nelson couple were touched by Jai's story and are now chipping in to raise money for his playground.

They've set up a Givealittle page where people can donate and have auctioned off restored furniture on Trade Me with money put towards Jai's cause.

Tom Heaphy says it's rewarding giving Jai a safe haven where he can develop. 

''It's somewhere he can be himself and run around like most kids his age but in a safe environment so he doesn't injure himself.

''It will take a lot of pressure off his family and caregivers so they don't have to watch over him all the time,'' he says.

Got to Help Jai Play Safely at givealittle.co.nz to donate or visit trademe.co.nz and search ''Loz and Tom'' to view auctions.

Western Leader