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Obituary: Dr. Matt Wildbore, 1963 - 2008

Wed 25 Jun 2008 In: People View at Wayback View at NDHA

Yesterday afternoon a large gathering of family and friends joined together in Rotorua to pay their last respects to Matt Wildbore, who died alone in his Auckland apartment last Thursday. Dr Matt Wildbore Unusually, for a predominantly pakeha gathering, Doctor Matt's funeral was a soaring, plunging rollercoaster of emotion; the highs were witty and uplifting, the lows were moments of heartbreak and deep sorrow. Matthew Paul Wildbore was born in 1963 in Morrinsville, but within a year the family moved to Rotorua, which remains the centre of the family to this day. His education started at Otanga Primary School and by the age of eight he was assessed as a gifted child. In the coming years he would reach high academic achievement, learn to play the guitar, sing in the choir and in his final year was Dux of the school. He moved to Auckland to become a boarder at Auckland Grammar where, remarkably for a boy who had no sporting skills whatsoever, he would mingle with some of New Zealand's rugby elite. His headmaster was John Graham, his housemaster was Graeme Henry (whose children he frequently babysitted) and he gave his unwanted and unused rugby boots to a young Grant Fox. At age 17 Matt began his medical studies at Auckland Medical School and was soon living in a Remuera flat with Brock the cat and making ends meet by working as a silver service waiter at Orleans restaurant. A few of his fellow waiters were gay and, gaydar pinging madly, they advised Matt that he was probably gay. He was. His medical career was smooth and distinguished, he had papers published, ran the usual gauntlet of long hours and stress as a registrar and did a stint as an anaesthetist. But general practice was his natural calling, appealing to his skills with people and the personal empathy which would eventually take its toll. He 'hung out his shingle' in Karangahape Road, at the City Medical and Wellness Centre, doctoring to inner city residents and the area's notoriously colourful characters, many of whom were gay. He artfully blended the techniques of conventional medicine with the subtleties of complementary therapies, a skill which became vital during those years when nothing could touch the relentless ravages of deadly illnesses occasioned by HIV infection. This was during the onset of the HIV epidemic which in the coming years would terrify and decimate the gay community. While some in the medical and support professions preferred to stay at arms' length from homosexuals and our sexually transmitted death sentence, for there were no life-extending medications in the early years, Matt Wildbore was one of those who had no hesitation. In the coming years he would look after the biggest caseload of HIV positive patients in the country, helping them as best he could as they slid towards frequently awful and sometimes lonely deaths. Matt was there for them, pragmatic and proficient on the outside, understanding and committed on the inside. The little kid who had been bullied at school because he seemed different to the rest, blossomed into a highly respected doctor and human being, often too empathetic for his own good, but always there for his patients. I can recall my then business partner Warwick Mickell teetering at death's doorstep, lying semi-comatose in Auckland Hospital's 'AIDS ward,' Ward 9, having succumbed to a vicious months-long infection of unknown and undiscoverable origin. His GP, Matt, and the impressive expertise of hospital specialists and staff had vainly struggled to identify and treat the infection, ordering up batteries of tests, to no avail. Eventually Warwick, grey, frail, trembling and sunken-eyed, unable to take food or drink, mostly unconscious, was brought home to die. It was clearly all but over, and friends and family from around the world began to gather in grief. Then, a phone call from Dr Matt, who had been awake all night rethinking, reviewing, searching through his medical knowledge. "Can you get Warwick to the hospital? There's one test we didn't do... it's a long shot, I don't want to raise any hopes, but..." With much difficulty and little dignity Warwick was transported to the hospital and, when overworked technicians advised they were unable to spare time or equipment on a probably quixotic test, Matt left him there, sagging in a wheelchair. Just walked away: "There he is, he's in your department, it's up to you now." It was a grand bluff, and it worked. The obscure test revealed a huge infective cyst hidden behind Warwick's pelvis. Treatment started within minutes and hours later he was sitting up smiling. Days later he went home and lived for several more enjoyable, productive years.   Warwick was not Matt's only patient, and not the only gay man whose illness and associated stress brought out the best in a young GP who cared, sometimes too much. There was a generosity of spirit in Matt Wildbore that saw him dote on family and friends and shoulder the burdens of his patients. Those burdens sometimes took their toll and Matt frequently neared emotional breaking point. Matt's reputation grew and respect spread. As body piercings became ultra-fashionable Matt embraced the trend and provided professional piercings, particularly those inserted in anatomically sensitive areas. There must be hundreds of people walking about Auckland and further afield with some of Matt's careful handiwork adorned with metal rings and other exotic and erotic jewellery. Eventually, as new HIV treatments kicked in, he sold his practise and blended his love of medicine with his fascination and knack for technology (he was the first person I knew connected to the internet, always had the first gadgets, including NZ's first iPod) to co-develop the medical practise computer programme which still underpins many of the country's health clinics. He settled into a quirky K. Rd loft-style apartment, a one-time dominatrix's den, and filled it with technotoys, Apple computers, fish tanks and two much-loved black cats, Denzil and Oprah. He took up a senior administrative position, as medical director of a large and expanding North Shore accident and medical centre. Two weeks ago he resigned from that post and last Thursday was found dead in his apartment. Police soon advised that there were "no suspicious ciorcumstances." So, yesterday several hundred people gathered in the chill of a winter's afternoon to pay our respects. We were an eclectic mix of people from the medical fraternity, HIV organisations, ex-patients, friends from NZ and overseas, and family including his parents Noel and Robyn and sister Jane and her family. There were tears and heartfelt sobs. There was laughter. And there was genuine pause for thought, to consider the too brief life of a man who just wanted to help people, and who in giving of himself burned so brightly that, like a distant and glittering star, he burned out and was suddenly gone. Farewell Doctor Matt, thanks for everything. - Jay Bennie [In honour of Dr. Matt, this obituary was typed on an elderly but still working Apple Mac Centris 650, purchased years ago on Dr. Matt's advice. As it loaded, the ClarisWorks word processing programme briefly flashed up the message: "This software is licensed to Dr Matt Wildbore, City Medical and Wellness Centre."]     Jay Bennie - 25th June 2008

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Wednesday, 25th June 2008 - 9:02pm

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