Editorial: South puts money where mouth is

Last updated 05:00 04/12/2012

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OPINION: Neuroheroism? The word's made up but we'll claim it as a fair description of what southerners can achieve when they put their minds to it.

Our communities have shown themselves prepared to strive collectively, inventively and with stamina to save, enhance and future-proof neurosurgery services.

Even in its initial form this was a sensational thing: an uprising from Otago and Southland to defend a key Dunedin-based service in the face of what seemed the implacable judgment of the medical bureaucracy that Christchurch alone could attract and sustain the expertise and resourcing necessary.

Stripping the service from Dunedin would have put it out of timely reach for too many southerners. The result - a 40,000-signature petition, a march of 10,000, and a campaign that stood strong in terms of medical, financial and social imperatives. There may even have been an element of political heat applied too; we can't quite recall.

But when the Government in 2010 accepted an independent expert inquiry and determined that not only would the Dunedin service be retained, it would be better resourced, the activists were not done.

If the job was worth doing, it was worth doing properly. People bestirred themselves afresh. So began, in January this year, a campaign to raise $3 million to set up an endowment fund for a chair in neurosurgery at Otago University, protecting the position against the vagaries of medical funding. And now it's mission accomplished, just 10 months later. The south has put its money where its mouth is. A feat all the more impressive because, let's face it, we'd been mouthing off all over the place.

It is not simply the amount raised that should be remembered. The breadth and depth of the fundraising campaign was remarkable. Right at the very end, we were reporting substantial donations like $100,000 from RD Petroleum - but alongside it income from the sale of used car batteries in Owaka, a winter feed competition in Tokanui and a quilt fundraiser in Middlemarch.

Plenty of events were, shall we say, coherently purposeful, such at the Brain Week Walk on the Milford Track, whereas others were the result of more elliptical thought processes. Over at Dorothy Browns theatre in Arrowtown they had a Brains and Brawn fundraiser combining a performance by pianist Mark Wilson, who had undergone neurosurgery in 2009, with screen footage of the Bledisloe Cup game between the All Blacks and Wallabies. Well, we say combined. It was first the piano, then the footy, which was arguably a shame. Combining the two in the manner of old-fashioned silent movie screenings would have further enhanced the appeal for some of us.

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Many a worthwhile cause has advocates and champions who struggle ardently without being able to obtain anything remotely approaching the level of support that the neurology campaigns have. In no small part these two successes were due to the people prepared to step forward and say plainly and with passion what they owed to the Dunedin neurosurgery team's expertise and speedy accessibility.

While expert voices were able to mount their case for supporting the chair of neurosurgery campaign, it was those powerful testimonies that helped ensure people didn't just understand the benefits; they cared.

- The Southland Times

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