In Bernie’s words – a better breathing consumer story

Bernie Tamihana-Tukere recently completed the Better Breathing Pulmonary Rehabilitation Programme in Linwood. At Bernie’s last class, he told the group this story and how he believed the programme saved his life.  

Clinical Nurse Specialist for Community Respiratory Services Louise Weatherall says Bernie had everyone in tears as he recounted his story followed by a round of applause. 

“Bernie showed remarkable bravery to share his story and is a very special participant. We are grateful that he is going to carry on as a volunteer for the respiratory service to support participants, particularly Māori in Linwood,” says Louise. 

“Bernie is also now a member of a steering group with Respiratory Physician Dr Mike Epton, which is looking at how to support people with breathing issues stay well in the community.”

This is Bernie’s story:

My name is Bernie Tamihana-Tukere. I am from the North Island, Hawera, Taranaki born and bred. Schooling and everything was done there. I was always an outdoors person, doing sports, mainly rugby league and soccer and softball in the summer days. I used to be very sporty back in the day. 

I started smoking when I was 14, sharing cigarettes with my mum. I had to do house chores to earn my cigarettes. Once I started working in the freezing work industry, I felt I was addicted to work because I could buy things that I wanted. Working was very rewarding.

My mum took me to the doctor one day, in my early 20s, the doctor said I was asthmatic. So, I have been living with my asthma for over 30-40 years. I continued to smoke during those years. I moved from Taranaki to Christchurch in the early 1980s, to come down here to work. I always considered the air down here is quite different to back home. I started working in Christchurch, over the years I have come to my senses that I have spent a lot of my money on cigarettes. And one day I just gave up, as I chose to look after my asthma better. I gave up drinking at the same time. Drinking back in the days, was the norm in my family. However, I broke the cycle within my family for drinking. 

Four years ago, I went to my GP for a check up and he diagnosed me with emphysema. At first, he put me on an asthma pump and gradually I worked my way up to steroid pumps. And I thought it was the body building steroid, but I was wrong! Ha-ha. It was for my emphysema. When he said he was sending me to the Better Breathing class. I was unaware I was going to use exercises to save my life. 

One morning, 4:30am, (while I was still attending the programme), I ran out of my asthma pump. I was in a breathing attack. The feeling was like someone was standing on my throat and on my chest at the same. It felt very difficult to breathe. I remembered the breathing techniques I was taught at the course, which came in handy. I put them into practice, and it helped me to get to my phone and ring for the ambulance. When I was at the 24-hour clinic, they put the ECG stickers all over me, gave me my asthma pump and gave me a prednisone tablet to take. I laid down on the bed and rested. I remembered saying to the staff, I cannot stay here for too long, because I have got a class to go to. When I felt I have come right, the staff said they were going to send me home in a taxi. A couple of hours later I went to my Better Breathing class.

I feel being Māori, I am just a bit shy and hesitant about going to courses and wondering whether that is just a pakeha thing. But if I had not learnt those breathing exercises and learnt how drinking water can improve my health, I do not think I would have pulled through on that morning. The first thing that came to my mind on that morning, was the course and the breathing techniques shared.

After the course, I can walk to the dairy at the corner of my street without stopping. I used to need to stop every second house and sat on the power box to regather my breath, so that was five to six stops. Before the course, I could not make it pass my mailbox, and I was not able to go any further. I used to take all my asthma pumps with me just to go to the shops, now I feel more confident, and I do not need to take them with me. I am using my blue colour pump every four hours now instead of every half hour. That course had made me think differently. I see things at a different level now.

If you have breathing difficulties, I recommend this course. It helped me and it would help you too! 

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