Tauranga’s Mr Whippy faces health battle

Tauranga’s Mr Whippy operators Ann and Ross Killoh. Photo: Ryan Wood.

He’s a friendly face on a hot summer’s day, but now Tauranga’s Mr Whippy has been forced to step down from his role due to a health battle.

Ross Killoh, who has operated the travelling ice cream van in Tauranga for six years, has recently been diagnosed with a rare condition that’s left his kidneys unable to function.

“It all happened really fast. As a Mr Whippy you’re really busy over the summer period, and I started to feel very tired. But I just put it down to the heat.”

That’s until he noticed blood in his urine. On February 5 Ross went to Tauranga Hospital to get himself checked out.

“I thought I was going to be released the same day I went to hospital – I thought it was going to be a stomach ulcer or something.”

Instead, he was transferred to Waikato Hospital the next day, and couldn’t come home for three weeks.

After a kidney biopsy he was diagnosed with anti-GBM (anti-glomerular basement membrane) disease, a rare condition that causes his own antibodies to attack his kidneys.

“There are no symptoms until your kidneys are almost completely destroyed,” says Ross.

Over February and March his kidneys deteriorated further, while Ross received chemotherapy, steroids, and 10 plasma transfusions to try and fight the disease. Doctors can’t explain the cause of it.

“I don’t do anything differently to any other resident of Tauranga. I initially thought it might be to do with crop sprays or the amount of pollen we have here. But if that was the case, other people would have it to.”

Now Ross is on dialysis three times a week at Waikato Hospital – Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

“I drive over in the morning to get there at 9am. It is four-and-a-half hours of lying beside a machine staring at a hospital wall, so the sooner you get there the sooner you get out.

“It’s character building – I’ve read multiple books since I started.”

His wife Ann Killoh has taken over running the Mr Whippy van in the meantime while Ross receives treatment.

“I was really dropped in the deep end,” she says. “I’d never taken the machine apart to clean it and put it back together again, for example.”

She’s also put her hand up to be a donor for Ross, who will need a new kidney. But it’s a long wait, as he needs to have a series of tests done to make sure he can have the surgery.

Even then, he has to be three months clean of the disease before doctors will operate.

That means at least another three months of dialysis, even if he gets the all clear tomorrow. A Givealittle page has been set up to help the family, because although the surgery is covered by the public health system, afterwards neither he nor Ann will be able to work for a time.

“Other than prescriptions, which have been hellishly expensive, my treatments have been funded. And I can’t compliment the staff enough on the level of care I’ve received from the doctors and nurses. It’s amazing to see how busy and concerned they are.”

He says his experience has shown how important it is to get regular check-ups with your doctor.

“You should get your bloods done once a year. Mine were last done a year-and-a-half ago, and they came back all clear. So what’s happened has only been a recent thing.”


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