It's National Volunteer Week so the Chronicle is catching up with some of the many locals who go above and beyond to help the community. Today, Logan Tutty talks with Juan Coffey about his transition from tradie to Red Cross volunteer and nursing graduate.
Juan Coffey was just your typical New Zealand tradesman.
A painter, plasterer and roofer by trade, Coffey's life was flipped upside down in 2016.
Coffey was running a painting and decorating business in Christchurch in the wake of the 2010 earthquakes when he got news no parent wants to hear.
Son Leuka broke his neck in a trampoline accident, resulting in a month-long stay in ICU and six months in Burwood Spinal Unit.
"He was supposed to go back to his mother the next day. He didn't end up going home for seven months."
As Luka was recovering, Coffey found himself wanting to know everything and anything about his son's condition.
"I was just one of those parents that kept asking 'What's that number for? Why are you doing that? Why has that number changed?' I just wanted to know the answers.
"After a while, the nurses would say to me 'If you really need to know this information, go be a bloody nurse'."
It was a lightbulb moment for Coffey.
"Yeah, that is exactly what I should do," he said.
Leuka's accident put Coffey's life into perspective, inspiring him to become a better father and person.
"Before the accident, I was just a tradie. You go and have your beers on a Friday night and go to the pub once a week and watch your rugby.
"I was a good dad. But you do get stuck in this rut. This is what life is about, watching rugby and drinking beer.
"Then when something like that happens, it really brings you down to earth and you can really see your true value in society and humanity."
Coffey had to do a Red Cross first aid course as a pre-requisite for his nursing studies at UCOL.
"The instructor mentioned they had a search and rescue welfare team in Whanganui and if anyone was interested they should stay behind.
"I stayed and went to the training and just got hooked straight away, this is totally me."
Coffey wanted to study nursing so he could be an advocate for his son.
"When you go up to his hospital and things go wrong, you know what they are talking about, you know the lingo and you understand the human body. You're a nurse, you know what's going on and I just found that brilliant.
"I was able to advocate for him right through."
Coffey worked full-time for six weeks at Whanganui's Community Based Assessment Centre (CBAC) with the Red Cross, voluntarily and without pay, just one week after sitting his final exam to complete his nursing studies.
"It's a good feeling that there is no monetary return because your heart is in it. You're doing it for the right reasons."
While the doctors and nurses were taking care of all the Covid-19 testing and analysing results, Red Cross worked in the background to help the operation run as smoothly as possible and offered a different kind of support.
"Our main task was providing psychological first aid. When we think of first aid we think of a cut finger or a burnt hand. This is applying first aid to someone's psychology and alleviating anxieties and fears of those getting tested."
People immediately felt relief when they saw the Red Cross symbol, he said.
"We were there to help people cope with what was a really scary situation. There's people that are scared they might have it, they turn up at the tent, everyone is in full PPE [personal protective equipment], it's really scary. People are jamming things up your nose and it's all quite overwhelming, it really is."
Working at the CBAC came at a great cost for Coffey, as he was unable to be in his family's bubble because he was putting himself at risk each day.
"That was really tough, really, really tough, not seeing my son for nearly three months. I love him to bits and I'm a big part of his life.
"That was the toughest thing. I really struggled towards the end there with missing him."
Coffey stayed with a fellow Red Cross volunteer for the six-week period.
"I had to isolate myself from my parents and children so I could do this work at the CBAC. I sacrificed a lot, but that's what you do isn't it?"
Coffey says he will be a life member of Red Cross and loves everything the organisation represents.
"We are humanitarians - we are there for empathy and impartiality.
"I will be a life member, I just won't quit. I will be involved in Red Cross for the rest of my life."