Meet Proud Sidekick, Starship
Foundation’s Chief Executive Aisha
Every superhero needs a sidekick who has their back, no matter what. Like Batman has Robin, the brave little superheroes recovering at Starship have a whole host of dedicated sidekicks, doing whatever it takes to help keep them healthy and strong.
We’re keen to tell the stories of Starship sidekicks from all walks of life, and today we’re excited to shine the spotlight on the Starship Foundation’s very own Chief Executive, Aisha Daji Punga.
What drew you to join the team at the Starship Foundation?
Like many Mercury customers, I’m a mum of a big blended family. I have two wonderful boys Armani and Milan, two great step-kids Finley and Alix, and care deeply about my boys’ siblings Dakota and Apache.
As a passionate advocate of creating brighter futures for our tamariki, I’ve been involved in children’s charities for more than a decade now. What really inspired me to join the extended family at Starship was Dakota’s own personal journey. Dakota is one of NZ’s youngest to be diagnosed with Type-1 Diabetes. In his first year, he almost lost his sight and his life. Each year Dakota spent three months in the UK getting fully funded life-changing medical technology. It was heart-wrenching to see the impact on the entire whānau. I am so proud to say that the Starship Foundation is investing in clinical research trials to make this life-saving technology available to all Kiwi kids.
What’s your favourite thing about leading the team at Starship Foundation?
I feel privileged to share my day with a passionate, purposeful, and impactful team at the Foundation. Every hour of every day, extraordinary stories of bravery, skill, and compassion unfold at Starship. We are humbled to be able to support courageous Starship children and whānau on their journeys, to work alongside amazing clinical teams, and experience the generosity of everyday Kiwis, like Mercury customers.
One of my most memorable moments was at an event with donors who generously gifted a 3D spinal surgical imaging machine. We had a euphoric clinical team following their first day of surgery and relieved families whose children’s initial post-op recovery time had gone from days to hours. I remember thinking, “I love my job!
How do you describe your role to someone who may not know a whole lot about Starship?
Starship is Aotearoa New Zealand’s national children’s hospital providing local services and complex specialist care for children from across NZ. There are about 130,000 patient visits to Starship annually, and around 800 outreach clinics annually where Starship clinicians see patients and offer specialist support around NZ.
Since 1992, the Starship Foundation has invested more than$150 million in Starship programmes that sustain and accelerate world-class healthcare. Programmes are designed to save and improve lives through technology, research, pilot programmes, and training.
We provide funds to enable NZ children to have access to world-class healthcare regardless of where they live, their ethnicity, or their family circumstance. We invest in Safekids and Healthy Homes to keep our tamariki healthy in their communities as well as making tough times more bearable with child wellbeing and whānau support. We do this by “whiria te tāngata” - weaving the people together. Weaving together brave families, amazing clinicians, and generous supporters.
What advice would you give someone interested in pursuing a career in Starship?
I am always encouraging my children to find their passion, to make sure that their head and their heart is in the right place. Life is too short not to spend your time loving what you do and being surrounded by people who share the same values. So whatever inspires you, take a leap. If you are passionate about children and brighter futures, then this could be the place for you.
We have people from all walks of life with all sorts of interests, backgrounds, and experiences. Everyone here makes a difference — from our doctors, our nurses, our tech teams, to our finance people, our support teams, and our fundraisers.
What’s the biggest misconception about Starship that you’d like to address?
I am always surprised that so many people do not realise that we are a national children’s service because our hospital is based in Auckland. We in fact treat and support children and their whānau from all over New Zealand both in hospitals and in their communities.
When a child’s life hangs in the balance and requires intensive care for more than 48 hours both PICU (paediatric) and NICU (neonatal) are here for our tamariki from across Aotearoa. Almost every second day, our Starship National Air Ambulance is making life-saving flights across the country (and the Pacific Islands) for our most critically ill and injured children. Starship is truly a national treasure and a lifeline.
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