COMMENT:

It took forever for us to get organised to get out of the house but there we were, a group of mums unknown to each with one very special bond in common - we had twins.

It's twin playgroup in 2015 at Plunket. We were all worn out, a little confused and seeking friendship and support from fellow twin parents about how to get by.

I recognised one face - Marama Renata. She's the daughter of two very special local people I had the pleasure of working with at the newspaper - Māori master carver, the late Matt Wepa, and long-time Rotorua District Councillor Janet Wepa.

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Marama's twins, Neihana and Aotea, are just a few months older than mine and we got to chatting.

Over the weeks friendships were made and bonds were created. We watched as our twins developed and talked about their quirks and similarities.

Neihana Renata before his choking incident. Photo / Supplied
Neihana Renata before his choking incident. Photo / Supplied

In mid-2016, Marama stopped coming for a while and we quickly learned why. Her beautiful 22-month-old boy we had all hugged and held at playgroup was fighting for his life after choking on apple at daycare. His future was bleak after being left severely brain damaged after going without oxygen for too long.

Our hearts sunk.

In my role at the newspaper and as a friend, I asked Marama if I could help in any way to spread the message about the dangers of choking or help fundraise for the family while they were off work caring for Neihana.

She politely declined. The limelight wasn't for them.

Neihana Renata, 4, can't move or talk after being left brain damaged from a chocking incident. Photo / Supplied
Neihana Renata, 4, can't move or talk after being left brain damaged from a chocking incident. Photo / Supplied

Eventually, Marama not only came back to twin playgroup with her beautiful children, she took over running the group - helping to share in the love of being a twin mum.

She was incredible and we were in awe. Here were our kids growing together, developing and learning but just one of Marama's babies was ticking off the milestones while she held, kissed and massaged her motionless son.

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But her love for Neihana and complete and utter devotion to giving him the best possible life was the biggest lesson we ever learnt in that group.

A year later we discussed again doing a story in the newspaper to raise awareness about high-risk foods. But at the last minute, she and husband Wi decided against it. The last thing they wanted was sympathy or publicity. I completely understood.

Since then they have been chipping away hoping for new early childhood policies which, if in place earlier, would have prevented Neihana's accident.

Marama (left) and Wi Renata with their boy, Neihana, who was left severely brain damaged after choking on apple. Photo / Stephen Parker
Marama (left) and Wi Renata with their boy, Neihana, who was left severely brain damaged after choking on apple. Photo / Stephen Parker

Hours, days, weeks and months of work has gone into writing letters, seeking information, making phone calls, questioning reports, attending appointments, finding out their rights and fighting for change to protect children.

Nothing has happened.

This week they have bravely told their story. They still don't want sympathy or limelight. It's about getting results so other families don't have to go through their nightmare.

The message to the Ministry of Education is simple - stop allowing the serving of high-risk foods to children under 3 and insist on medical training for all staff in early childhood centres to ensure they can handle choking incidents.

For the ministry to do nothing is unacceptable.