Wendy Klyen looked across her hospital bed, saw a young, bruised and heavily bandaged woman lying on her back unable to do anything and knew she had to help.
It was May 2018 and Wendy, a teacher who specialises in teaching children with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities, lives in Cambridge and was then in Waikato Hospital.
Five years later, they are sitting in Wendy’s back garden in Leamington. It is the first time Ju Yun (Naomi) Chao has returned to New Zealand since she was medevacked home to Taipei, Taiwan in June 2018.
“We stayed in touch and she said she wanted to come back,” said Wendy.
Some of the things she was going to do with her friends then, she plans to do with Wendy – visiting Hobbiton, Rotorua, Taupo and Mount Maunganui among them – before flying back on Saturday.
Five years ago, Naomi had been transferred to the hospital’s intensive care unit by helicopter from Thames Hospital after a head-on crash on the Coromandel Peninsula Road, not far from the Kopu intersection.
She and two friends were in New Zealand travelling in a rental car – Naomi was in the back – when about 8pm on Tuesday May 1, their car crossed the centre line and collided with another vehicle.
Wendy was in a Waikato Hospital medical ward – it was not where she should have been but overcrowding elsewhere resulted in her meeting the seriously injured Naomi, who had been moved out of ICU.
“I befriended her. She couldn’t move. She was on her back, and she couldn’t do anything, nothing at all,” said Wendy.
Naomi had told hospital staff not to tell her parents about the accident. “I didn’t want my parents to worry.” As soon as they did find out, they flew to New Zealand, arriving on May 16.
Her two friends were in the ward above so the only person she interacted with, other than hospital staff before her parents’ arrival, was Wendy.
She started calling Wendy her “Kiwi Momma” and has done so ever since.
She was all alone, if I had a daughter that had gone through that, I would like to think somebody would do that for my child in a foreign country.
Her injuries were extensive and included a broken pelvis, three lumbar spine fractures, a broken clavicle, wrist and toe. Eighteen days after the accident she transferred out of the medical ward and into rehabilitation.
By now Wendy – a mother of three sons and grandmother of three – had been discharged home so she visited Naomi and on two occasions brought her back to Cambridge for the day just for a change of scenery.
She also took her to Hamilton Lake for fish and chips and an ice cream. Another time she brought in her ukulele – she is a member of the Riverside Ukes fitting in as much kiwiana as she could by playing New Zealand songs.
“She was all alone, if I had a daughter that had gone through that, I would like to think somebody would do that for my child in a foreign country.
“I thought it was so sad they had come all this way and not seen a thing of New Zealand. Thank goodness none of them were seriously injured.”
Naomi is full of praise for the hospital and one clinician in particular, rehabilitation specialist Michael Kaplan.
“I love him, he’s good, he’s funny. He checked on me. One day I was laying in my bed and he said ‘Naomi have you been using your brain?’”
“I’m very grateful for everyone that helped. It’s because of them I am able to come back here in one piece.
“The entire experience in the hospital is very different from Taiwan.
“The medical team here they remember your name,” said Naomi.
“They showed kindness, they cared.”
Even things like getting Wendy’s hairdresser in to wash, cut and style her hair, something Naomi found incredible.
“My friends said ‘you get your hair done in hospital?’
“I really appreciated Wendy visiting me because she was the first one who asked the medical team if I could get in a wheelchair so I could be wheeled around.”
Wendy finds it ironic that Cambridge was not on Naomi’s original itinerary five years ago but now her favoured destination. They went on Saturday to the Cambridge Farmers’ Market and Lake Karāpiro to see the Maadi Cup rowing and to Rotorua on Sunday.
Hobbiton provided two free tickets so they visited it yesterday (Wednesday).
“I could have ended up with no help, I could have been alone in the hospital for all my treatment… to be able to meet Wendy. She actually won’t get anything back under my circumstances. But she still does all those things for me.”
Wendy downplays it saying all she did was provide emotional support to a young woman alone in a foreign hospital.
“Anyone would have done the same,” she says. Naomi’s face suggests otherwise as she again acknowledges her Kiwi Momma.