The life of Louisa Akavi, a truly selfless New Zealander

Louisa Akavi, taken hostage by Islamic State, dedicated her life to saving others.

For more than three decades she dedicated herself to the victims of war and conflict - a life spent in hospitals, refugee camps and prisons in warzones around the world.

In 1996 Akavi was one of 19 staff posted to war-torn Chechnya. She was treating the wounded at the Red Cross hospital base.

It was there that she survived the bloodiest attack in the history of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Six volunteers were murdered, gunned down indiscriminately in their beds. Akavi's old friend and fellow New Zealander Sheryl Thayer was among them.

In an interview with TV3 in 1997, Akavi described the night it happened: "We had dinner together in the evening. It was fine we were all sort of sitting chatting about, it was eight, nine o'clock, I went to bed early."

Just hours later masked gunmen broke into their compound and opened fire.

"I heard more banging things falling and more gunfire, more gunshots... We opened the door and Sheryl was there, she was dead," said Akavi, "Every day since that night I see Sheryl, I see the bodies of my friends and their coffins.

"They could have easily killed us all."

Louisa Akavi.
Louisa Akavi. Photo credit: Newshub.

And yet, despite the trauma and horror, Akavi continued risking her life to save others.

In 1999 Akavi was awarded nursing's highest honour, the Florence Nightingale Medal, accepted on her behalf by her parents for her work in Chechnya.

Born in the Cook Islands, Akavi grew up in Porirua. She has a home in Otaki and worked as a nurse at Wellington Hospital.

Her 31-year career with the Red Cross can be traced through the world's conflict zones.

Her first post was to Malaysia in 1988. She went on to work in Hong Kong, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Bosnia, the Solomon Islands, Iraq and Chechnya.

It was that same dedication and selflessness that took Akavi to Syria.

"We all know the risks when we take these assignments," she said in 1997.