Stroke Recovery, Lockdown & Whānau Support - Phoenix's Story

It’s been a tough year for many, but for Northland man Phoenix Ruka, this year has been exceptionally hard for him and his whānau.

[Story originally published at Mental Health Awareness Week 21-27 September 2020]

It wasn’t just the noho rāhui that the 30-year-old and his whānau dealt with this year – Phoenix also had an unexpected stroke just after the first noho rāhui, meaning he couldn’t feel the entire left side of his body.

“I was working at a wānanga, and I was out running and had a stroke. That, plus lockdown, opened our eyes up as a whānau,” he says.

“I was in hospital for a while and I’m still in recovery now. I still can’t feel my left side – I can move it and I can use it, but it’s all numb and the doctors still don’t know why it happened.”

Nō te Hokianga ki te taha o tōna Pāpā, ā, nō Mangakāhia ki te taha o tōna Māma. Phoenix’s connections are strongly rooted in Te Taitokerau. He grew up in Kaikohe and Whangarei, where he still lives with his wife and their three tamariki.

He currently works at Sport Northland in He Oranga Poutama helping young people, and he also runs a gym with his whānau, where he is a personal trainer.

“We’re a really active whānau – always have been. We’ve played all sports and the gym allows me to support other people to stay active through whanaungatanga and healthier lifestyle choices,” says Phoenix.

For ten years, Phoenix has also committed his working career to the health and wellbeing of Māori. He started his hauora career in the kaupapa of Suicide Prevention – Kia Piki te Ora and has been passionate about tackling health inequalities for Māori ever since.

“My mum and my dad have always worked in hauora and as a whānau we’ve always been interested and committed to what it means to be Māori. All aspects of it – business, reo, tikanga and physical and mental wellbeing as well.”

Whānau connection is important to Phoenix. It is the pillar of strength that both his parents have built for him and his younger brother – and it’s this strength that helped him get through the obstacles of Covid-19 and his stroke.

Reimagining wellbeing in a post noho rāhui environment, Phoenix talks about how grateful he is and what he is thankful for. He says as hard as this year has been, it has brought his whānau closer together.

“It forces you to appreciate all the small things way more, like being able to go for a walk – especially after going through a period of time where I couldn’t – going to the gym even after the doctors said I might not be able to, still being alive and being with whānau,” says Phoenix.

Recovery from his stroke remains a priority for Phoenix, with multiple appointments with key health providers locked in to help with his progress.

“I'm annoyed at where I’m at and in terms of where my body’s at following my stroke. I can’t do what I’m supposed to be doing, which is super frustrating for me, because I love being active and busy, and the doctors are telling me to do less when my mind is telling me to do more.

Phoenix is also back at Sport Northland full time and has started back at CrossFit.

“I tried to do nothing, to do less, but I felt like I was getting worse. Staying busy, staying active and staying social is all about looking after my hinengaro.

His goal is to provide a great future for his tamariki – to leave a legacy of determination and inspiration. In his own words, time is borrowed; you're never promised tomorrow, so spend more time with your whānau while you can.


Story originally published at Mental Health Awareness Week 21-27 September 2020.


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