Saving lives with Sonny Lewis
It was a shocking scene over 30 years ago that was to shape Sonny Lewis's desire to help others and forge a career in personal care. Witnessing a terrible accident at 19 years old, when a boy from his school got hit by a car, Sonny leaped to action. As others stood by helpless, watching the boy bleed heavily from an open wound in his arm, Sonny rushed over to utilise his belt as a tourniquet.
"I had seen how to do it on TV and couldn't believe others were just standing doing nothing,' he recalls. 'He was bleeding very heavily and I honestly believe what I did saved his life.'
A caring nature and hard work run in Sonny's genes. His mother was a nurse and his father worked on the farms in Ruatoki, Bay of Plenty. Being male and Maori, Sonny breaks the mould of the usual stereotype of a support worker. 'My personal mantra has always been "care for the needy". My mother inspired me to care for others', says Sonny. 'My Maori culture was an important part of growing up, and I remember being brought up to respect our elders who were looked after by the family. My Grandmother was 106 when she died. I learned first aid when I worked for a Maori Mental Health organisation for seven years and it's certainly come in useful. Everywhere I go I seem to end up in situations where I help someone - when I was a Maitre'd at the Grand Chancellor in Wellington I performed the Heimlich manoeuvre on a lady choking on a chicken bone. Another time I helped steady a man who'd had a heart attack and waited with him until help arrived. I just seem to be around when these things happen', says Sonny with a modest smile.
When asked how his culture has played a part in his role he says, 'It helps with the language. I am Tuhoe, one of the last groups to be colonised, and our language is important to us. Maori clients are often grateful to be able to speak the Maori language - especially in an urban area like Wellington where they get less exposure to it. And it helps to put them at ease. Although as much as my culture is an important part of who I am, I've also been able to learn so much about other cultures and history - two former clients included an Indian man who was 106 and a Jewish man who was 101. I have four clients at the moment - all male aged in their 60s and 70s - who I help with personal cares. But what I enjoy most is being able to help people to stay in their homes, an important place of independence.'
One of Sonny's first clients was a very high ranking lady in Maoridom. 'Her husband was related to the Maori Queen - he was the last in the line from Waiuku. So it was quite a privilege to care for her. I used to help with dialysis having to feed the line into her foot.. I've been doing this sort of thing for many years and recently, one of the children I used to care for whilst based in Otaki Health Camp, who was seven at the time, saw me and recognised me - that was 35 years ago!'
'For me the motivation to help others comes from wondering "who will look after me when I am that age". I see a need for lots more rest homes in the future as people will always still need to work and not be able to care for their elders. Someone has to do that. Someone has to care for the needy.'