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Cam McKenzie is back at work after a seizure led to the discovery of an “apple-sized” brain tumour. PHOTO: KELLEY TANTAU

Seizure gives principal ‘insight’

When Alison Imrie heard that someone was having a seizure on the grounds of Goldfields Special School in Paeroa, she assumed it was a student.
But then she saw her boss’ shoes.
Cam McKenzie, 45, suffered his first and only seizure on August 22 at around 8.10am.
It was caused by a meningioma brain tumour that doctors said had been growing inside his head for around 10 years.
The principal has since recovered from a surgery to remove the tumour, and is back working at the special school on Norwood Rd.
He told The Profile he’s now armed with a greater appreciation of what some of his 87 students go through on a regular basis.
“They are the unsung heroes,” he said. “A student could have three or four [seizures] a week and they don’t make a big deal out of it.”
On the morning of the seizure, Mr McKenzie, who lives in Ōmokoroa in the Western Bay of Plenty, drove through Katikati, the Athenree Gorge, and the windy Karangahake Gorge before reaching work.
He had the seizure just outside of his office 20 minutes before students were set to arrive.

The 'apple-sized' brain tumour could have been growing inside Cam McKenzie's head for a decade. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

“It was a Monday morning and I could hear all the staff, so I went over to our student cards to get the details for the ambulance, but then I saw my boss’s feet and thought we better get the staff file instead,” Alison said.
In what is a usual routine for the trained teachers at Goldfields, staff called an ambulance and timed the length of Mr McKenzie’s seizure.
It lasted almost four minutes, during which he bit his tongue and chewed a hole through his crown, cracking his filling. An ambulance crew from Paeroa St John arrived on site within two minutes after he woke up.
Mr McKenzie said he was then taken to Thames Hospital, where they discovered the benign tumour the size of an apple.
He underwent an operation at Waikato Hospital on August 31, got 42 staples in his skull, and now has an impressive scar.
“The neurosurgeon said I’d hit the tumour jackpot,” he said, “because it wasn’t tangled around anything, it was just sitting right on top.”
He cannot drive for 12 months; instead, he has been catching a ride to school each day from a fellow teacher at Paeroa College.
The whole ordeal, he said, has left him with a greater appreciation of what his students go through on a regular basis – some of whom suffer from epilepsy.
“It gave me a greater insight into how vulnerable they are, because when you’re down on the ground, you’re really putting your trust in the people around you,” he said.
“I also have a greater appreciation of what our parents go through with their children, knowing that something like that could happen at any time… they just trust us without question.”
Mr McKenzie said he’d thanked his staff “at least three times each” for their support during and after the seizure, and also wanted to show appreciation to the staff at Paeroa St John and Thames Hospital.