My name is Mervyn. I am 83 years old and since age 2 I have suffered from asthma. This was very bad as a child - I could not run or even walk fast without having an attack, and my father would often have to piggy-back me up the street to our house.  My school life was affected as I was often absent from school.  I would be in bed for 5 to 7 days, wheezing loudly, and holding on the top rail of the bed to breathe.  My parents tried all sorts of remedies, from herbal cigarettes to fruit and cream diets. One remedy that did help was saltpetre which was dissolved in water and soaked on to blotting paper. When dried, it was placed on a coal shovel and lit.  A thick white smoke emerged, and the room was sealed.

Of course, I now control my asthma by taking inhalers as prescribed. When I lived in a retirement village in Mosgiel, my asthma was bad.  I always had a tight chest which affected my eating of meals in the dining room, sometimes not eating anything.  I lost weight, and have spent two periods in hospital for investigations to see if any other reason caused the weight loss (there wasn’t).  Then I decided to return to Dunedin where I had lived most of my life, and my asthma is good here – I  think because of the sea air.


I have always lived an active and full life, despite having asthma. When I was young, I wanted to join Scouts with my other friends. My mother did not want me to, but I persisted. At first I could not do anything physical, including games, but gradually I managed to join in most activities. A few years later I became a Scoutmaster, but I could not go camping. When I tried, I got a bad attack in the tent at night, remembering nothing until I woke up days later with three Scouting men in my bedroom. But I did discover that I could go tramping, and very often I would take scouts away tramping in the Silver Peaks area. We would go in the dark on Friday evenings to a hut and spend the weekend tramping, returning late on the Sunday. I had no medication with me and did not need it. Later, as a Rover Scout, I went tramping with a group to the West Coast valleys for 3 weeks at a time, carrying a heavy pack. Again, no problems. After two years, when I, with a friend, formed another Rover Scout Group, I organised and led more 3 week tramping trips.

And then came the miracle! Inhalers were invented and my life changed. 

However, at age 21 my asthma got worse again, so I moved to Alexandra in Central Otago. I was there for 5 years with no symptoms. I returned to Dunedin in 1959 where I married, and soon asthma returned, often keeping me up at night. From then on I had many doses of adrenaline injections, until one made me shake violently. And then came the miracle! Inhalers were invented. At first I was given injections of the substance in the first inhaler, but then came the inhalers themselves, and my life changed. For some years now I have been told I have COPD, but my asthma is largely under control.

At this age, I don’t just have respiratory conditions as my health issues. I've got a lot going against me but I manage alright! I go to Rotary Club breakfast meetings where I have been a President, Treasurer, Bulletin Editor and recipient of the Paul Harris Fellow. I’m also a member of the Probus club for retired business people, and I play bowls at my local bowling club. I go to the university club once a week, where they have a meal and a speaker on different topics. Because Scouts helped me so much, I have spent most of my life in the movement, mainly in Leader training roles. As well as receiving their highest award, I was also made a Life member of the Association for 68 years of service. I still serve as a member of the Baden Powell Guild. All of these activities keeps me active enough!


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Sadly, many New Zealanders are affected by respiratory disease. One in six New Zealanders have a respiratory condition. Respiratory illness is the third leading cause of death in New Zealand.

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