Two Hawke's Bay District Health Board staff have been honoured with a Ministry of Health Volunteer of the Year Award.

Karen Murdoch, a gastroenterology nurse and Dr Malcolm Arnold, a senior medical officer, are part of a team who give up a week of their time in January to attend Camp Purple Live, for children and teens with inflammatory bowel disease, for Crohn's & Colitis NZ.

There is a growing population of sufferers of the disease due to better diagnosis.

New Zealand has the highest incidence of these diseases in the world per capita. Crohn's disease and colitis both cause debilitating pain, hospitalisations, repeat surgeries and a severely reduced quality of life, often due to social isolation.


The camp in January is an opportunity for the children to feel normal and build social networks. After all, it is not a subject many people want to talk about openly.

Ms Murdoch has been going to the camps for two years now, and Dr Arnold attended for the first time this year. Both said they found the camps humbling and inspirational.

Their role at the camp is to deal with accidents (health and safety), flares in conditions, and to deal out the medication at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The Hawke's Bay District Health Board has played a role also, donating the majority of the medical supplies to the camps.

Earlier this month that voluntary medical team, from all over New Zealand, were joint winners in the Healthcare Provider Service Team Volunteers category at the Minister of Health Volunteer Awards held at Government House in Wellington.

Ms Murdoch was on hand for the accolade but the colleague she inspired to tag along this year, Dr Arnold, could not make it due to work commitments.

The pair gave up a week's leave to attend the camp. Ms Murdoch is on the organising committee, and both have been involved in fundraising to contribute to the $65,000 needed to hold it.

This year's camp was entirely free of charge, including airfares, for the 48 children who attended. The team also organised a two-day seminar for 25 parents to provide education, support and an opportunity to network with other caregivers.

Ms Murdoch said the camp offered the children a social network, including older teenagers who came back as volunteers.

"The social effects of IBD are huge - a lot of these kids are bullied," she said.

"Many of these children had never been to a camp before because of their disease. Unlike a school camp, everyone at this camp is receiving medical treatment so they get the chance to feel like any other child or teenager.

"The camp builds self-confidence, independence, self-esteem, resilience and empowerment. All the things that kids get from camps. However, the key difference is that they are doing this in a safe and supportive environment, geared to children with IBD.

"It is wonderful to see the growth in their confidence through the week. It is a humbling experience for us as medical people ... quite addictive."

She hopes the award will "increase awareness that this condition can affect children, because it is not known in the public domain" - and, of course, help to raise funds for future camps.