Meet Queenstown’s ultimate volunteer


Derek O’Connell is Queenstown’s ultimate volunteer.

He’ll give a helping hand throughout golf’s New Zealand Open – then give up a kidney to his seriously ill brother.

Within 24 hours of the tournament finishing this Sunday, O’Connell will be at Christchurch Hospital getting ready for the lifesaving transplant scheduled for the following week.

And the golf-mad resort hotel worker insists his four-day stint as an unpaid roving marshall at The Hills course near Arrowtown is the ideal distraction.

“As the operation comes closer, the reality of it all is beginning to sink in and I suppose I’m a little bit nervous,” the former Arrowtown Golf Club vice-captain says.

“Having a busy time at the Open will be a great way of keeping my mind off things.”

O’Connell, 40, said “yes” immediately when 35-year-old brother Nathan from Christchurch asked him last July if he would donate him a kidney.

It will be the second transplant for Nathan, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder called Alport Syndrome that eventually leads to kidney failure.

Ten years ago he was given an organ from an elderly man who had died.

But over time, this had started to deteriorate and another transplant is now desperately needed, with Derek proving a perfect match.

“Nathan is married with a two-year-old son, Josh, and there’s no way I could see that little boy being without
a father,” Derek says.

“My brother’s health has been going downhill pretty quickly and not that long ago he had ulcers in his throat. It’s terrible to see someone sick like that.

“When Nathan first asked me if I would donate a kidney to him, I joked that it would be no problem – just as long as it wasn’t during the NZ Open.”

In recent months Derek – who’s purchasing manager at the Copthorne Hotel – has been back and forth to hospitals in Dunedin and Christchurch for medical tests in preparation for the surgery.

The operation is slotted for February 8 and he hopes to be back home within seven or eight days.

“I’ve been told I’ll be lethargic and fatigued for a few weeks afterwards but I should be back to full fitness within three months,” Derek says.

“All going well, I hope to be back on the golf course and hitting a few balls by the middle of March.”