Bridget and her trusty dog Goldie overcome disability to score national award
Despite having plenty of challenges of her own, a Masterton woman has guided about 500 people toward better health care - helped by her four-legged friend.
Bridget McLaren, 24, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, but doesn't let that stop her volunteering weekly at Masterton's medical centre.
That determined and generous attitude has won her the youth category of this year's Minister of Health national volunteer awards.
Since May 2015, Bridget and her trusty mobility assistance dog Goldie have volunteered at the centre, inviting people to take advantage of the Wairarapa District Health Board's health passport scheme.
They have been instrumental in more than 500 people signing up for the passports.
The initiative improves access to health services for people with long-term conditions by ensuring their medical needs are accurately recorded and easily shared in one, compact document.
It eliminates the often-onerous task of remembering and repeating lengthy information each time a patient meets a new health worker, McLaren said.
"It might be disability equipment, whether they need their chair on the left or right side of their bed, whether they can read or not, lists of medication ... it means they don't have to remember all that in a stressful situation."
Crucial to Bridget's success is Goldie, the seven-year-old, labrador-retriever cross she got through the Mobility Dogs Trust.
As well as keeping McLaren safe at home and picking things up for her with his mouth when she cannot reach, Goldie is irresistible advertising.
He trots up to patients in the centre's waiting room wearing an "Ask me about the health passport" sign on his collar and carrying a customised suitcase with a demonstration passport.
"They go, nice dog, and then the nice dog hands them a health passport. It's a way of engaging," McLaren said .
She was excited by her win, saying a disability was no barrier to an effective, satisfying volunteer experience.
Compass Health Wairarapa general manager Justine Thorpe supported McLaren's nomination for the award because her positive attitude was inspiring.
"Goldie, of course, is somewhat of a show-stopper and is very popular amongst young and old wherever they go.”
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman presented McLaren and Goldie with their certificate for winning the youth category in Parliament on Monday, alongside winners in four other categories.
The awards precede National Volunteer Week, from June 19-25.
The 2016 Minister of Health Volunteer Award winners and runners-up included these Wellington region volunteers:
- Overall winner: Sing Your Lungs Out choir, for people with severe respiratory disease, Wellington and Porirua.
- Maori/Pacific Health Volunteer Individual winner: Moafagatau Tuifao Lologa, Wairarapa.
- Claudia Mushin, Wellington Polio Group.
- Andrea Buckland, Mary Potter Hospice, Kapiti.
- Sarah Marshall, StarJam Kapiti.