Costly operation aims to diminish brain tumour


When one of New Zealand's top police dog handlers started having dizzy spells and not feeling himself early last year, he figured he probably needed a holiday. But the real reason was far more sinister.

After a string of frustrating encounters with medical and radiology staff, Blair Spalding was finally told he had a brain tumour in his right frontal lobe.

He underwent surgery on the 7cm tumour at Waikato Hospital in March last year and then had six gruelling rounds of chemotherapy over 36 weeks.

The tumour was diagnosed as a rare oligodendroglioma (CRCT) and doctors estimated he had between two and eight years to live.

The senior constable and member of the Armed Offender Squad spoke to Hamilton News last week at his home.

Blair cuts a striking figure - he's tall and solid and you get the impression he and his police dog, Yogi, would be a force to be reckoned with on the job.

But beneath that tough exterior is a gentle man who is determined to live as long and full a life as possible alongside his wife-to-be and fellow officer, Carla Darrah, and their two-year-old daughter Indie.

Blair is composed when he talks about researching further surgical options to give him the best chances possible. After much deliberation and second opinions, Blair and Carla settled on neurosurgery at the International Neuroscience Institute in Hannover, Germany.

They fly out next month with surgery scheduled for about April 16. Blair says he felt Germany would be his best option because the institute uses an intraoperative MRI device which scans the brain during surgery, enabling surgeons to determine what is tumour and what is healthy brain tissue - something that can be difficult to determine by the naked eye.

But this critical procedure comes at a cost. A committee was established to raise $150,000 to cover the cost of the operation and living costs for Blair, Carla and Indie for up to three months. More than $50,000 has been raised but there's a long way to go.

Carla's eyes well up as she looks over at Blair, his arm wrapped around his wife's shoulder, revealing a large tattoo of Indie's name on the inside of his arm.

It's then he speaks about how proud he is of Carla and how she has juggled life in the past year ... working, taking care of Indie and taking on tasks Blair can no longer do as he's unable to drive.

The close-knit pair were set to marry in Rarotonga last year but had to cancel because chemo took its toll on Blair. However, they are looking forward to a scaled-down wedding in Whitianga later this month, where Indie will be part of the wedding party.

And they've made it clear there is to be no talk of brain tumours on their special day! Just a few weeks after their nuptials, the family of three will fly to Germany.

Committee members are urging people to attend a charity dinner and auction for Blair next weekend. A table of 10 is $1000 and includes a delicious dinner and drinks, an auction conducted by professional auctioneers, rowing icon Rob Hamill as guest speaker, a band and the function will be hosted by MC Ronnie Phillips.

Thirty police staff have volunteered their time to be wait staff for the evening.

Blair and Carla are humbled by the support they've had, from the Police family through to complete strangers. Police have held fundraising events from Auckland to Blenheim. The fundraising committee is determined to meet the $150,000 target.

Blair's determination to fight for his life is just as strong. "I want to give this my best shot. I want to see Indie grow up, to see her go to school," he says looking over little Indie cuddling up to her mum. The look of absolute adoration in this gentle giant's eyes says it all.


While the purchase of a full table of 10 for the dinner and auction on March 16 is encouraged, individuals or couples can attend, organisers says. To purchase tickets, email or phone 021 162 1141.

You can also donate to Blair's fund by internet banking. Account name: Blairs Brain Fund, account number: 06 0603 0100588 00. Search 'Blairs Brain Tumour Fundraiser' on Facebook.

- Hamilton News

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