A childhood bout of rheumatic fever changed the course of Andrew Fiu’s life in almost every way. But one very positive spinoff has just happened: 35 years on Fiu has graduated with his first formal qualification, a Master of Business Administration from the AUT Business School.
The medical fallout from undiagnosed rheumatic fever in 1979 saw sports-mad Fiu go from playing rugby with his mates at De La Salle College in Mangere to spending many of his teenage years in hospital. Extreme damage to his heart ruled out sport, cut his schooling short at 16, and required him to have six open heart surgeries by 2010. He spent four and half years in and out of hospital and medically died twice.
Fiu, who loved sport and hated reading, frequently found himself in a ward with more than 60 elderly patients. His ward mates passed their days with conversations about politics, world events, the economy and their own travels and adventures. To a young Samoan boy of fourteen this was unnatural, but looking back Fiu says it was a master stroke decision by his doctors, as it helped develop his mind faster.
“Before I could join in the conversations the other patients said I had to read the newspaper, so eventually I gave in and read it every day. It wasn’t long before I found a love of reading and a drive for achievement – everything changed,” says Fiu.
As an adult, Fiu has balanced fragile health with a desire to push himself and achieve as much as he can without delay. He carved a career for himself in the media industry, established a successful media agency, Pacific Mango, and published a memoir about his extraordinary life, Purple Heart, in 2006.
Purple Heart became a prescribed text for NCEA English and Fiu has been a sought-after speaker at schools ever since. He is regularly invited to advise teachers and schools in Australia and New Zealand on how they can better engage with youth. Most recently in October he spoke at a United Nations sponsored event in New York.
A desire to influence change on a higher level inspired Fiu to return to formal education in July 2014, applying for an MBA at AUT Business School more than three decades after leaving school with no qualifications.
“I can get up on stage and tell kids about education and they listen – and I can share how I do that with teachers and educators. But I wanted to effect a bigger change so I needed knowledge and understanding at a higher level.”
Once Fiu decided he needed an MBA it was ‘full steam ahead’. Studying 12 hour days, seven days a week allowed him to complete the degree in a record 15 months, including completing an applied business project for UNICEF New Zealand.
“Because of my heart situation I don’t have time to waste. Time is of the essence to me – I’d rather do the best job I can now, and I won’t put it off. My particular situation has built me to think like that.”
Fiu is still deciding on his next move – but it’s likely to be a leadership role in the not-for-profit sector where he wants to make a difference to the health or education outcomes of young people.