A New Zealand wheelchair basketball player says he was fearing for his life after learning his teammate died just hours after returning home sick from an international tournament in Thailand last Sunday.

Kauri Ezra Murray, 21, was in Waitakere Hospital's Accident and Emergency when he heard that Teremoana Tuakana, 34, had died in Middlemore Hospital.

They were part of the New Zealand Roller Blacks team that had just returned from a tri-nations tournament in Thailand involving the home country and South Africa, and Murray said both of them had suffered from "food poisoning-type symptoms".

The NZ Roller Blacks in Thailand. Kauri Ezra Murray (third from right) and Tere Tuakana (second from right) both contracted a mystery illness. Photo / Supplied
The NZ Roller Blacks in Thailand. Kauri Ezra Murray (third from right) and Tere Tuakana (second from right) both contracted a mystery illness. Photo / Supplied

The team were staying in Suphan Buri, about two hours north of Bangkok, and went out to sample some local Thai food and liquor after playing their final game.


"We were not allowed to drink during the tournament but went out for some local Thai beer and a couple of drinks once it was over," Murray said.

They also had various street food, including a Thai-style meat barbecue.

On the flight back, Murray said both he and Tuakana felt nauseous, developed a fever and started having diarrhoea.

"We thought it's just a little bit of food poisoning that would go away, but it got worse after we arrived back in Auckland," he said.

Tuakana was taken to Middlemore Hospital hours after they landed in Auckland and Murray followed after his symptoms worsened.

"We were suffering from the same stomach bug, so I was really worried when I heard that Tere died from it," Murray said.

"But I think what hit us must be a lot more than just from the food and drink."

A coroner confirmed that an infection caused Tuakana's death, but what caused the infection remains a mystery.


"Me and the boys were just shattered and shocked at Tere's death, we just can't believe he's gone," Murray said.

Murray said team members had formed an even closer bond after the week in Thailand.

Tuakana's partner Kalina Harry said Tuakana arrived home with the team on Sunday afternoon and was keen to rest.

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

She believed Tuakana must have contracted a virus in Thailand because she had been contacted by a teammate some days earlier.

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


Murray said he and Tuakana were close mates, and they would often hang out at Tuakana's house after training.

"I really want to extend my condolences to Kalina and the kids, the pain of the loss must be a hundred times worse of them."

Murray wrote on his Facebook page: "I was in A&E trying to fight my way out of this and I'm shattered to bits that you didn't make it. Seeing you on the front page of the newspaper was hard enough to hold back the tears. A nightmare that none of us from the national squad and the country that plays this sport with you can ever wake up from.

"The boys are gutted, I'm so mad, sad at myself right now just at a real loss for words, feeling that I could have done something. Moe mai ra e te rangatira. Gonna miss you man!"

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

Murray said all Roller Blacks team members will be attending Tuakana's funeral on Monday.


A memorial service, open to the public, will also be held at PGM Church in Ponsonby at 6pm on Sunday.