Prof's kindness touched many

DAVID HOLDAWAY, ASSOC PROFESSOR, 1932-2012

Last updated 14:32 30/01/2013

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For a child and their family to be faced with the devastating news that their child has cancer is surely one of the worst possible scenarios imaginable and, 25 years ago, families in the south receiving such news faced a very lonely and traumatic experience.

This changed under the caring hands of Associate Professor David Holdaway.

From 1973 until his retirement in 1998 families throughout Otago and Southland had the dedicated service of Assoc Professor Holdaway as their paediatric oncologist.

Known affectionately by patients and parents alike as "Prof Holdaway" or simply as "Prof', he and his team pioneered a treatment programme for cancer children that placed importance on not only medical excellence, but the welfare of both the child and their family. No child or their family were to walk that road alone any more.

Prof Holdaway could see there was a desperate need for additional support for the family as a unit, given its importance in the ongoing wellbeing of the sick child in their journey for wellness. In August 1988, he was instrumental in the setting up of the Otago-Southland Division of the Child Cancer Foundation.

A major fundraising event began leading to a four-unit accommodation facility opened for the use of families outside Dunedin who had children under treatment for childhood illnesses. Such was the regard within the child cancer community for Prof Holdaway, it was unanimously agreed it carry the name "Holdaway House", a name carried on today at the current CCF administration centre in London St, Dunedin.

Prof was always acutely conscious that many of his families travelled substantial distances for treatment. This meant families were often separated for many weeks or even months, and the extreme and demanding nature of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment meant siblings or wider family, and parental employment and family finances often suffered greatly.

Whenever he deemed it was medically safe for a child to travel home and receive some of their treatment near their home, he would go to extraordinary lengths to achieve this.

This was particularly appreciated by families, particularly if a child later became palliative.

As soon as possible after diagnoses, Prof would arrange a family meeting, where he would use easily understood analogies to fully inform both parents and siblings. He had the unique ability to make families feel their child was particularly special and precious.

Prof was known to write letters to bereaved siblings to be opened when they reached an age where questions, doubts and fears may need to be addressed, illustrating his caring nature. He always made himself available to these families and worked long hours, often seven days a week. This meant on many occasions his own family made sacrifices in order for him to dedicate so much time to the care of his young patients.

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When Dunedin's Primary Care Child Cancer Service status came under threat during the 1990s Prof Holdaway was a dedicated advocate for the retention of services, and fought long and hard for this. When it became evident, however, that all child cancer primary care would be transferred to Christchurch he was insistent that the additional burdens being placed on both the child and its family, due to the change in locality, were fully addressed.

Prof continued to support the foundation after his retirement in many ways, and during the annual fundraising appeal, he personally manned the hospital site, extracting generous donations from his past colleagues. He was a compassionate, quiet and modest man, who dedicated his life to the welfare and wellbeing of not only children with cancer but many children with other ailments throughout Otago and Southland. Many hundreds of families had their lives touched by this remarkable and kind man.

Born in Marton in 1932, David Holdaway was the youngest of three boys, educated in Marton, attended secondary school at Nelson College and graduated from the University of Otago Medical School in 1957.

He decided at an early age that he wanted to be a doctor. As a young child he spent several years in hospital suffering from Perthes Disease (disease of the hip) followed by a great deal of time in leg callipers. His empathy around illness and its challenges, especially in young children, was evident early in his life.

He attained medical qualifications in both New Zealand and the United Kingdom (working as ship doctor to assist in getting to the UK), along with an impressive history of medical practice overseas, which included Canada, United States and Papua New Guinea. His special interest lay in the fields of infectious diseases and paediatrics.

David Holdaway is survived by his wife Shirley, son Simon, daughters Sarah and Penelope and three grandchildren.

- The Southland Times

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