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‘Our guardian angels’: Terminally-ill visitor thanks community for help

Monday 18 September 2023 | Written by Joanne Holden | Published in Features, Health, Health, In Depth, National, Travel


‘Our guardian angels’: Terminally-ill    visitor thanks community for help
John Smith, of Australia, holds up a ‘thank you’ sign while surrounded by his family during a visit to Rarotonga. 23091730

A terminally-ill Australian grandfather, whose dying wish was to holiday in Rarotonga with his family, was faced with spending his final trip in “crippling, excruciating pain” – until the Cooks community stepped in.

The night John Smith was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer, his family knew they needed to get him to the Cook Islands.

“He is terminal and doesn’t have much time left,” his son, Lucas Smith, said.

“His wish has always been to bring his whole family – 20-plus of us – to the beautiful Cook Islands and create unforgettable, lifelong memories for us all to remember him by.

“The Cook Islands has always been Dad’s bucket list place that he has always wanted to see. He has spoken about it for years.”

On September 10, two months after his terminal diagnosis, John arrived in Rarotonga with his wife, three children, seven grandchildren, two of his grandchildren’s partners, his sister, sister-in-law, nephew, and a family friend.

However, before leaving Australia, he learned he could not bring his “most important” pain medication – which Lucas described as “crucial to him having any quality of life” – to their holiday destination.

Lucas said his father was in “crippling, excruciating pain” within 24 hours of their arrival.

“It [the cancer] is very aggressive and has spread to other parts of his body, and into the bones in his neck and ribs. This is what is causing him crippling pain throughout his body,” Lucas said.

“We managed to get him to a local doctor, Dr Lawrence Puni of Rarotonga Medical Centre, who went above and beyond to help our father and make him comfortable enough to try and enjoy his lifelong dream family holiday.

“Dr Puni was extremely proactive and understood how to best advocate for our father, and ensure he enjoy this important time and be out of pain.”

The doctor prescribed John medication, which the family needed to collect from Rarotonga Hospital.

“After Dr Puni’s amazing help, and while struggling to find a taxi to the hospital, we were blessed by the intervention of who we believe is our guardian angel,” Lucas said.

“A beautiful woman by the name of Kai, from the law office just above, saw our distress through the window from her desk and ran to us to ask if we needed help. We briefly explained our dilemma and to our amazement, Kai insisted she personally drive all of us to the hospital to get our father his medication.

“Not only did Kai take us there, she waited the whole hour with us until our father received his much-needed medication from the amazingly beautiful hospital and pharmacy staff – and then drove us back to our accommodation.

“Kai wouldn’t accept any money for petrol or anything else we tried to offer, accepting only a 'thank you’.”

Lucas said the family “cannot stress enough” how thankful they were to the two people they regarded as “our guardian angels”.

“Without them, we would not have been able to create the precious memories that we will forever hold dearly in our heart. Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said.

“We hope the Cook Islands population know how lucky they are to have such beautiful, selfless people as part of their wonderful island community.”

John was feeling “much better” with the help of the medication, Lucas said.

“We have been able to enjoy so many experiences here – including the Koka Lagoon Cruises, where the amazing and entertaining staff looked after my father and the rest of us; where we were amazed by the beauty of Muri Beach and the lagoon, snorkelling, island lunch, and show.

"We’ve done the waterfall walk, bike rides around the island, taking his grandchildren for ice cream on the beach.

“Dad has loved all the beautiful venues here – including Vaiana’s Bar and Bistro; Waterline Restaurant and Beach Bar; and our accommodation, Edgewater Resort.”

Lucas said the family’s new favourite dish was ika mata after the Edgewater’s chefs took the yellow fin tuna they caught on Magic Charters and cooked it four different ways, one being the signature Cook Islands dish which was “now special to us”.

He said the family had been “wowed” by the food, culture, and hospitality standards on Rarotonga, pointing to Te Vara Nui Village and the Beluga cafe as two additional places they had enjoyed visiting.

“All this and we are only halfway through our special family holiday.”

The family fly back to their home on the south coast of Australia on Thursday.