Picton grandfather Gordon Gray has cheated death twice in seven months - with help from the crew of an air ambulance service.
Last July, critically ill with renal failure and severe lactic acid buildup, Gray was flown to Nelson Hospital by the Life Flight Trust's Westpac Rescue Helicopter. After four days in intensive care and undergoing dialysis he made a full recovery.
But on Waitangi Day, while staying at a respite care facility for another health issue, Gray had stroke-like symptoms. The left side of his body was weak and his mouth was drooping, so staff called 111.
The 65-year-old was taken by ambulance to Wairau Hospital where doctors decided to send him to Wellington Hospital to see a neurologist. He flew in Life Flight Trust's air ambulance plane.
At Wellington Hospital, doctors diagnosed Gray with a brain bleed known as a subdural haematoma and put him in intensive care.
Three days later Grey was well enough to return to respite care in Blenheim, where he is recovering. He took Flight Trust's air ambulance again - with his wife of 43 years Heather at his side.
Speaking to the Herald on Sunday about her husband's health scares, Heather Gray said she believed her husband would have died if Life Flight hadn't airlifted him to Nelson in July.
And his chances of survival would have been slim had he not been flown to Wellington three weeks ago - about a third of people who have subdural haematomas die.
"He is a battler. He's like a cat with nine lives," Heather said of her husband.
The couple met as teenagers at a church youth group in Christchurch. They have four sons and six grandchildren.
Since 2010, then aged 57, the previously healthy former bookshop manager had been diagnosed with several chronic illnesses - including prostate cancer and type 2 diabetes - but when he woke up one morning last July Heather knew Gray was suffering from another medical condition.
"His colour was absolutely dreadful. His eyes were dilated. He was slurring - clearly struggling to breathe," she told the Herald on Sunday.
Knowing a loved one was fighting for their life was always a "shattering experience" Heather said, however the professionalism and empathy the Life Flight Trust staff showed helped her cope during both incidents.
Jo Murrihy, a casual crew member at the Life Flight Trust, was on board the air ambulance when the Grays were returning to the South Island.
Her role involves supporting the relatives of patients and she chatted with Heather and Gray throughout the flight.
Hearing Gray talk about how he had been saved by the Life Flight Trust twice was "pretty surreal".
Murrihy related to the Grays' story easily because shortly after she started volunteering with the Life Flight Trust four years ago her mother needed to be airlifted to hospital and was transported by Murrihy's colleagues.
"It was almost uncanny really," she said.
After Gray's trip in the chopper, a volunteer fundraising for the Life Flight Trust happened to knock on the front door of his and Heather's home in Waikawa and asked if they wanted to donate to the organisation.
"Well of course what was [I] going to say? [I said] 'Where can we sign?' My husband wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the helicopter," Heather said.
They are now "Red Angels", who support the Life Flight Trust financially every month.
On Wednesday, Life Flight Trust is launching a fundraising campaign for a second plane. The charity aims to raise $50,000.