Well-known former New Zealand football journalist Dave Petraska has died having spent four weeks on a ventilator in a Colombian hospital after catching Covid-19.

And his mother is pleading with people to get vaccinated in memory of her son, who was only a week away from getting his first jab of AstraZeneca when he was admitted to hospital.

Petraska, 56, had been battling the virus and later pneumonia in the South American country, which had been his home for seven years.

A prolific football writer in the late 1980s and early 1990s,Petraska died on Wednesday.

It comes after Kiwi granddad John Murray, 74, died in a Bangkok hospital earlier this month after contracting the virus on June 12 through an unknown source.

On June 7, Petraska referenced his ill health in a social media post thanking people for contacting him for his birthday on June 5.

“It was especially nice to hear from y’all as I’ve been sick for a week now with some kind of non-Covid related mystery illness that no one’s been able to put the pieces together yet,” the post read.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson confirmed the death of a New Zealander in Colombia but gave no further details, citing privacy.

Speaking exclusively to the NZ Herald, his mother Abie Petraska said the family had received incredible support since her son’s passing, but her grief was still fresh.

“You don’t expect to bury your children do you, you expect them to bury you,” she said.

“It is a dreadful, dreadful disease when it does this, but the hospital and doctors in Colombia were amazing, they did everything they could to save him.”

Abie called her son on his 56th birthday and he was clearly unwell. Aware of his symptoms, Petraska went to his doctor to be tested for Covid-19, which came back negative.

“I think it must have been a false negative or they just got it before [the virus] hit him and he just went off a cliff, it just absolutely attacked all the organs in his body,” Abie said.

Two days later, Petraska was on a ventilator in hospital before being sedated. After four weeks, his body was unable to repel the effects of the virus any longer.

In the late 80s and early 90s, Petraska was a well-known scribe for Soccer Express – thought to be New Zealand’s last football-focused weekly newspaper before it ceased printing in 1992.

He then shifted to working in sports betting as a man renowned for his meticulous record-keeping and statistics knowledge.

Petraska’s role as a punter took him to Curaçao, Jamaica, Gibraltar and the United Kingdom, before finally residing in Colombia, which Abie said would have been his permanent home surrounded by good friends.

Also a passionate musician, Petraska was fluent in Spanish – something which came in handy when Abie and her husband saw him in Spain in 2018, the last time they met in person.

Abie, who lived in Auckland, was hopeful others would realise the importance of being vaccinated after Petraska’s passing.

“My mantra and my message is to have the vaccine in memory of Dave.”

Since Petraska’s passing, former colleagues, players and coaches had come out in droves – offering their condolences as they remembered a man who both entertained and frustrated.

All White Noel Barkley met Petraska during his playing days with the Mt Wellington club and the national side when Petraska worked for Soccer Express.

Barkley, a 35-capped All White and three-time New Zealand Player of the Year, remembered him as a bold operator who made no apologies for what he said in print.

“[Petraska] told it as he saw it and almost became quite controversial because he didn’t hold any punches.

“[A player] may have been a 30-cap All White and [Petraska] would say he was crap.”

Barkley, 60, last saw Petraska before his move to Colombia and only heard of his ill health about a week ago.

“I messaged Dave straight away and he just said, ‘Contact my mum’ and he gave me his mum’s name.”

Despite not having seen Petraska in the flesh for many years, Barkley was shocked by his passing and expected much of Auckland’s football community to feel the same.

Former All Whites coach Kevin Fallon, 72, was one of many from New Zealand’s football fraternity to express his sadness at Petraska’s death – even if the pair had clashed over the years.

“Amazingly, [Petraska] liked me. He got some good stories from me, that was the thing, but he could be hot and cold,” Fallon said.

“I was very sorry to hear of his passing because he was a bit of a character, whenever you volleyed him, he bounced back.”

Jeremy Ruane, who worked with Petraska at Soccer Express, painted the same picture of a strong-willed journalist who didn’t suffer fools, but also had a softer side.

“At the same time, he could be extremely kind, he was a very caring person too.”


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