Reston Brook has to push a 2cm-wide length of rubber down his throat every day so he can eat and drink.

The painful, gag-inducing ritual is a legacy of an accident in 1983. As a toddler, he drank from a bottle of caustic soda solution at his parents' screen-printing business, permanently scarring his oesophagus, the tube from the throat to the stomach.

Now he is battling ill-health and the Accident Compensation Corporation.

He had numerous operations as a child. The muscles of the oesophagus stopped working, leaving only gravity to do the job of moving food down, with the help of lots of water.


A section of the oesophagus was so badly damaged that it collapses in on itself, requiring Mr Brook to slide the rubber "dilator" almost to his stomach.

For five years he was able to eat without having to dilate his oesophagus, but he still needed copious water with a meal, and he couldn't lie down for some time after eating because doing so would cause reflux.

Now aged 30, Mr Brook, of Botany Downs in southeast Auckland, had surgery in November that was supposed to improve his swallowing.

A dissolvable stent was placed in his oesophagus. However the oesophagus reacted badly and suffered further damage.

The mechanic and father of a 2-year-old girl spent more than a fortnight in Middlemore Hospital recovering, in two stints, often vomiting violently. He had to resume dilating his oesophagus and felt he was back to where he was five years ago.

Worse was to come.

Because of the difficultly in eating, the previously 69kg Mr Brook lost 17kg, which he believes contributed to his next medical drama by leaving him vulnerable to infection.

He caught potentially fatal bacterial meningitis. It caused his brain to swell, leading to seizures and a further long stay in hospital.

His third episode of serious ill-health since November came in March: a bout of pneumonia.

"I am an emotional wreck just thinking about everything let alone trying to talk about it," said Mr Brook.

Against medical advice, he has returned to work, as a part-time cleaner.

Because he has taken so much time off work for medical appointments and procedures he sought weekly compensation from ACC.

He said ACC had indicated by letter he would not qualify because he wasn't working in 1983 - he was a toddler - and he was ineligible even under the "potential earner" category as his fulltime mechanic's wage exceeded $510 gross a week.

But a spokesman for ACC said it had not declined the request and needed further medical information; there was confusion over whether this had been supplied.

The corporation was considering Mr Brook's recent treatment injury claim and expected to make a decision on that soon.

Mr Brook said his bank had granted a mortgage holiday in April, "but we have lost 18 months with our payments. We owe more than $10,000 for mortgage repayments before we got our mortgage holiday."

"We are just a normal family who got married, bought a house and had a beautiful child. We pay all our bills, rates, taxes [and ACC levies] and are almost on the brink of losing everything that we have.

"It just seems like we live in a country that doesn't look after the average Kiwi family.

"I just want to get back to work so I can support my family."

Work and Income had offered him $20.50 a week.

The amount was so little because of his wife's pay as a teacher.

"We aren't asking for millions of dollars, just what we deserve as we have gone through so much.

"There are so many ACC claims out there where they cover scratched knees and stubbed toes."