If there’s a cause to collect for, Denzil Fernandez will be there. This year Denzil has assisted in collections for Pink Ribbon Street Appeal, Daffodil Day, and Blind Week, to name just a few.
A part-time volunteer at Blockhouse Bay’s Hospice Shop, this friendly, bubbly gentleman who ensures no-one leaves the shop without a cheery ‘thank-you’, will often introduce himself as “Washington, Denzil Washington” which, he says with a twinkle, ensures no-one forgets his name.
Denzil is a VIP – a Vision Impaired Person – due to Hemianopia, the result of a stroke in 2007. This condition means he is blind in half his visual field, in both eyes, and is also colour-blind.
In 2004 Denzil arrived in New Zealand with nothing. He had left behind a comfortable life in banking in his home city of Mumbai, India to pursue his dream of living in NZ, and within four days had a job at Subway.
Finding that insufficient to live on, he also worked midnight to 7am at Bakers Delight. The hours were long and the work not what he was used to, but Denzil determined to make the best of it. His wife Mary had gone back to India to honour family commitments shortly after they arrived in New Zealand and returned only after twelve months.
Gaining a temping job with the BNZ - a foot in the door which eventually became a permanent position – Denzil was now able to give up the graveyard shift at Bakers Delight. Mary, formerly a bank officer, found work at Countdown on the night shift.
Driving to the bank one day, Denzil felt strange. He stopped for a while and after feeling better, he carried on. He worked all day but by the time he arrived home in the evening, he had lost feeling in his right side and his vision was blurry. He was rushed to hospital, but the damage was done.
The stroke was debilitating and heralded a very challenging time for them both. Denzil began his long journey of recovery, beginning with a month’s stay at an ashram in India, where, under a regime of therapy including a vegetarian diet to cleanse his system, and daily intensive massaging with oils, his body began its healing process.
Mary also faced huge changes: she was now the principal decision-maker for the family, and also had to learn to manage the household accounts which was previously Denzil’s domain.
However, they are both very determined people.
Denzil’s physical recovery took around six years. He had lost much of his memory - numbers, dates, his ability to count and solve problems had all been wiped due to the injury to his brain. He also suffered seizures. “I didn’t know what was happening until the doctors explained it”, Denzil recalls. Fortunately, medication eventually brought that under control.
The BNZ held his job open for a year, but Denzil was unable to return to work. His wife Mary, who was now working at the HSBC Bank, said, “Don’t worry, we’ll manage.” Parishioners of St Dominic’s Church in Blockhouse Bay, the couple both have a strong faith. They look at the positives and attribute their good fortune to God’s providence and their resolve to not give up.
The Blind Foundation was instrumental in Denzil getting his life back. They began a process designed to restore independence: working with him daily on moving about his home; then walking with him around the block; then to the village. Eventually he was taught to independently catch the train to Newmarket, and from there walk to the Blind Institute in Parnell.
Nowadays, Denzil has a weekly routine which includes the Senior’s group at Church of the Saviour and Communicare at Blockhouse Bay Baptist, engaging in activities such as board games, crafts and bowls, which are all helping to create new pathways in his brain. He also works two days a week at the Hospice Shop, and in fact was their first volunteer when they opened ten years ago.
“Mary and I have had some hard times, but we consider ourselves truly blessed”, says Denzil.