A coroner has confirmed an infection caused the death of an up-and-coming New Zealand wheelchair basketball player after returning from an overseas tournament.

Teremoana Tuakana, 34, died just hours after returning from Thailand, where his team played in a tri-nations tournament against the home country and South Africa.

His sudden death left his partner of eight years, Kalina Harry, in shock at the mystery infection which saw him taken to Middlemore Hospital on Monday morning.

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Harry said Tuakana had returned on Sunday afternoon after a week away playing with the Roller Blacks and was keen to rest.

However, he quickly deteriorated, was suffering a fever and then hospitalised before dying in his hospital bed on Monday.

"I didn't realise this infection was really bad. I thought he would just get checked and go home, but it was a different story," she told the Herald on Tuesday.

She said he had been in good health prior to leaving and believed he must have contracted the virus in Thailand as she had been contacted by a teammate some days earlier.

An image from video of the New Zealand wheelchair basketball team - the Roller Blacks - performing the haka before a game in Thailand last week.
An image from video of the New Zealand wheelchair basketball team - the Roller Blacks - performing the haka before a game in Thailand last week.

Tuakana became wheelchair-bound after a motorbike accident in the Cook Islands in 2004.

When contacted today, the coroner's office confirmed it was investigating and that there would be no post-mortem because the cause of death - the infection - was clear to medical professionals.

It remains unclear what the infection was that claimed Tuakana's life.

The couple are parents to son Kevin, 6, and daughter, Tevina, 3.


Tuakana's cousin and pastor of the Pacific Gospel Mission church he attended, Mata Makara, said everyone was still struggling to believe his death was real.

"People are still saying 'we're shocked', even today, it still hasn't sunken in," he said.

"We didn't believe it at first, we thought 'we want to see him' before we could believe it. It's just unthinkable that it's happened."

As well as a loyal member of the church, Tuakana played in its band; attending every Sunday morning practice, rain, hail or shine, by catching a train and then bus through Auckland.

Makara described him as being a joker that was "full of life" and loved by everyone.

He said Tuakana had always been sporty; representing Cook Islands in an U16 soccer team which toured New Zealand prior to his accident.

Family initially thought he was playing wheelchair basketball for fun, but then he began to excel before being selected for New Zealand two years ago.

He had moved between New Zealand and Australia several times before finally settling down eight years ago and having his two children.

Wheelchair Basketball NZ asked for privacy while the organisation grieved for their teammate.

A memorial service, open to the public, will be held at PGM Church in Ponsonby at 6pm Sunday, followed by a funeral on Monday.