Head injury Northland man just wants to support family

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Noah Wakelam at home with his wife Debby and children Evelyn, 2, Vaun, 6 weeks, and Lydia, 3. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF
Noah Wakelam at home with his wife Debby and children Evelyn, 2, Vaun, 6 weeks, and Lydia, 3. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF

A Kerikeri man says ACC has refused to fund his treatment for a head injury even though most medical professionals who've seen him believe it's the cause of his ongoing health problems.

Noah Wakelam made the news last week when NZ First leader Winston Peters took up his cause in Parliament.

The Northland MP said it was unacceptable Mr Wakelam, who was self-employed until the accident, had to go from doctor to doctor for nine months until ACC made a decision.

Six medical professionals have told Mr Wakelam his troubles are a result of his accident.

ACC, however, says two specialists found no direct link between his injury and ongoing symptoms, and some of the delay was caused by his sporadic contact.

Mr Wakelam suffered a head injury in a fall in March 2014. He received weekly ACC payments for three months, then tried to return to work because he had contracts to fulfil.

By November last year, however, he was suffering from worsening tiredness, visual disturbances and headaches, so he sought medical help and contacted ACC again on his GP's instructions.

"I was pretty bloody concerned about my health. My doctor told me I was still dealing with my head injury."

Mr Wakelam said his case manager told him a decision about his ACC claim would take a few weeks so the family lived off their savings until money ran out in March this year. He is now on a benefit.

"I didn't want to go grovelling to WINZ but in the end I had to," he said.

Since late 2015, Mr Wakelam said he had been to four GPs in Waipapa and Kerikeri, who diagnosed him with post-concussion syndrome, and an ophthalmologist in Whangarei, on the recommendation of the Brain Injury Association.

He had also been to a physiotherapist in Kerikeri and ACC sent him to an ear, nose and throat specialist in Auckland.

All linked his health problems to the "unresolved" head injury.

He was then referred to a neurologist but had to wait until June for an appointment and another nine weeks for the report.

The neurologist, and a neuropsychologist, said there was no direct link between the injury and Mr Wakelam's ongoing health problems.

Mr Wakelam said ACC had "cherry-picked" details from the neurology report and used them to justify turning down his claim. He has asked for a review of ACC's decision.

ACC spokeswoman Sarah Martin said Mr Wakelam received cover for a minor concussion injury in March 2014 and weekly compensation until June 15, 2014.

Compensation stopped when he found new employment and was cleared to return to work by his GP after a report from a concussion clinic.

Ms Martin said Mr Wakelam had asked for his weekly compensation to be reinstated in November 2015. Given the time that had passed, ACC had to reassess whether his symptoms were related to his March 2014 concussion.

During that time Mr Wakelam had been in casual employment around the country and his contact with ACC was sporadic, leading to delays in seeing medical assessors.

Mr Wakelam was assessed by a neuropsychologist, an ophthalmologist, an ENT specialist and a neurologist. He also had a hearing test, Ms Martin said.

The neurology and neuropsychology assessments did not find a causal link between the concussion and Mr Wakelam's symptoms. He could access the public health system while reassessment was underway.

While his claim was under review, it was not appropriate to comment further, she said.

Mr Wakelam said first and foremost he wanted treatment so he could get back to full working capability, and had told ACC discussions about weekly compensation could wait. ACC, however, had tried to make weekly compensation the issue.

"I just want to be able to function again and to support my family - emotionally, physically and financially," he said.

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