Phoenix Logo

Phase 3 Cardiac Rehabilitation Since 1968

Return to Main Page

History Of The Club

Early History
The Otago Phoenix Club was started in 1968.  It was one of the first cardiac rehabilitation clubs in the world and certainly the first in New Zealand.  Dr Edwin Richard Nye, a physician at the Dunedin Hospital, was the man with the vision and the courage to set this in motion. Sadly, our founder and patron, Dr Nye (Ted) passed away on February 1st 2017 with a service of remembrance and celebration being held in St Paul's Cathedral, Dunedin on February 7th 2017. Until a short time before his death he was still actively involved with the club and attended club functions when he was able to do so.

On the rear cover of a booklet entitled “Exercise and the Coronary Patient” written by Dr Nye and P. Gay Wood in 1971 the authors were described as follows...

Dr E. R. Nye is Physician and Senior Lecturer in-Medicine, University of Otago Medical School, Dunedin. He trained at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, and came to New Zealand in 1960, returning to Europe in 1965 for a year's work in Sweden. In collaboration with Mrs P. Gay Wood he started the exercise programme described in this booklet in 1967.

He has long been active in the sport of fencing, first gaining the distinction of representing London University. In New Zealand he has regularly represented Otago-Southland and has had many placings at the national championships. He won a New Zealand blazer v. Australia in 1969.

Mrs P. Gay Wood trained at the New Zealand School of Physiotherapy, Dunedin, and was subsequently on the teaching staff.  With Dr Nye she has shared in the development of the exercise programme from its inception. Last year she presented a paper on some aspects o the programme at the congress of the World Confederation of Physiotherapists in Amsterdam.

The club programme was the subject of a film, commissioned by the National Heart Foundation, made and released in 1970 by the New Zealand National Film Unit.  The film was entitled "Recovering From A Coronary - A Rehabilitation Programme for Patients with Coronary Heart Disease". It deals specifically with the place of physical activity in the management of convalescent coronary patients. Dr Nye and Mrs Wood were closely associated, as medical consultant and adviser respectively, with the National Film Unit in the making of the film.

In the film, the club was referred to as “The Dunedin Coronary Club” and there is some debate as to how and when it became known as the “Phoenix Club”.  Ted Nye cannot remember exactly when the new name was adopted but he is certain it was the suggestion of one of the members, the late Charles Butterfield (who founded Butterfield's Furniture firm, then well known in the City).

At the time of the making of the film, the programme had been running for 3 years.  Members of the Dunedin Coronary Club were aged 39 to over 60.

The booklet mentioned above, has a chapter devoted to “The Coronary Club” and it describes some of the thinking that motivated Dr Nye to set up what was to become “The Otago Phoenix Club”.

In the Dunedin programme the club used the gymnasiums and swimming pool available in the Department of Physiotherapy but provided its own equipment.

Dr Nye has often been asked, typically at the Annual General meetings of The Otago Phoenix Club, to recount the reasons behind the setting up of the club and the following is a transcript of a talk he gave at the 2012 AGM.

Early Treatment Of Cardiac Problems - As Related by Ted Nye

==== Start of Transcript =====
I guess every medical student knows, or maybe every student of exercise knows, that the heart has really enormous potential reserves.  We know that people are capable of such feats as climbing Everest and running marathons in 2 hours and 12 minutes.  So I think this is evidence of the potential cardiac reserve that there is in everybody at some point in their lives.

This was in contrast with the sort of advice that was given to people who’d had a heart attack, where, 40 years ago, physicians really didn’t know what to tell people after they had had a heart attack.  “What can I do doctor?”.  “Well, let me see now.  Well, it’s..  Er… Er”.  And they’d fumble around the answer to this particular question because they didn’t know.

And then it struck me, in talking to one or two patients, that they had in fact already perhaps begun to take the initiative of getting themselves more active, maybe in a very modest way and I remember pursuing this by saying “How far do you walk every day?”.  And then that sort of took off and with this at the back of my mind, I then suggested in fact that we could structure this and we would structure it in a protected environment, because of the uncertainty about what we were proposing to do, I thought it best that we be seen to be cautious, and so the rehabilitation group came initially under the supervision of the physiotherapist, and of course in the early stages this still takes place, and we could then monitor people and see how they responded to this challenge of getting more active.  And of course, everything followed from there.

Somebody recently asked about the walks that we did, the Milford Track, Routeburn Track, and so on, Kepler Track, and I may say, I think, that this was the stimulus from the patients.  One of the patients said to me (this would have been about 1967 I think) “Why don’t we walk the Milford Track?”.  I said “Oh, my god, oh yes, what a good idea!”.  And, I remember at the time, I had a colleague, Stan Woodhouse, who is somewhere in Australia now I think;  he volunteered to take the defibrillator, which I felt somehow was not necessary.  However, we set in place a training programme for people to walk up Flagstaff and Mount Cargill and so forth over the course of several months, gradually increasing the time and the load they were expected to carry in the way of a rucksack and essential gear.  And of course, following on from that was the first walk of the Milford Track.  And as mentioned I think in the recent item in the newspaper there were a few people, a few skeptics around, who thought that this was the ultimate example of foolishness, and I may say that when we got to the end of the Milford Track, we got to Milford Sound with no problems, there was a television crew who were anxious to know how many people had dropped dead in the course of the walk and I was able to reassure them that everybody coped perfectly alright, it was no problem.  I may also add, and this may not have been on that first walk but on another walk we did, there were two young Americans who’d come to do this great feat of endurance as they saw it and at some point in the course of the walk I said “You realise that all these people around here have all had heart attacks”.  “Oh my gosh, is that right?  I hope we never have to go to war with these people!” they said.  So that I think was an eye-opener for them, and the patients were much better trained and they coped perfectly well.  So from then on really I suppose, the drive, the force and so forth that has kept the club going has arisen from the members more than anything else.  They have been an example and inspiration to many other people in the way that they have adjusted and adapted to an existence which is evidence I think of the capacity of the heart to adjust to a load.

There are other aspects to the club as well and that is the social environment it provides and I happen to have this, I think it’s just about the latest number, the September number of the British Medical Journal to arrive and it caught my eye because it touches on something which would be, I think, receive a knowing and sympathetic response here and I don’t want to read the whole thing obviously but this was a study done in 1800 people in a town in Sweden, which doesn’t matter very much, over the age of 75.  And they found, and I haven’t got the original paper here, this is just an editorial about it, that the effects of this programme that they had, which was… or not so much a programme so much as a retrospective look at people and the way they had adjusted in their life; these are not necessarily cardiac patients I might add; that it predicted survival, if they participated in leisure-time activities, and there are other aspects of it as well.  And they are able to show in fact that the people who participated in leisure-time activities, be it exercise or other social activities, did better than people who had not.  So I think this message in fact is in a way pertinent to the sort of group that you have set up.  So the activities were either social or physical and they predicted something like an increase in survival of about one and a half years.  Now some of these studies are difficult to interpret but I think it’s moving in the right direction anyway and it’s certainly encouraging to show that if you get involved in these sort of things, at least you’re not worse off and you could well be better off.  So this is I think pertinent to the Phoenix Club and the way it has been a nucleus not only for exercise but I think for mutual interaction, mutual stimulation and the positive side of a social network. So that I think probably summarises what I have to say without wanting to labour the point.  Just in passing, for those who were not aware of it, most of you will be I think, the name “Phoenix Club” was not my idea, it was generated by one of our patients.  In fact it was generated by Charles Butterfield who was at the time a patient who had been in the programme and was then, I don’t know, managing director or something of the sort, of Butterfield’s Furniture.  He suggested the name and of course it has stuck ever since.  So this I think was in a sense one of the bits of evidence of the involvement of people emotionally and intellectually with what the club stood for.  So I think on that note I should finish.  Thank you very much for listening.
==== End of Transcript =====

This page is a work in progress and will be developed over time as we approach our 50th anniversary in 2018 and as information is gathered. Some contributions have already been received from some of our long-standing members who were able to supply some details of the early years of the club.  If you have any information that will help us build upon the history of the club, please contact Dave (Webmaster and Editor of our "Heartbeat" newsletter) by e-mail at

Part of this history, as it develops, will be a Record Of Officers serving on the committee over the years so if you have information to fill in the gaps, again, please contact Dave.

Return to Main Page