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By Valerie Monson

KALAUPAPA, Molokai (The Maui News, April 30) - The homecoming for Kalaupapa artist Henry Nalaielua on Thursday was more than just a celebration for one of the settlement's most respected kupuna.

It represented a whole new direction for the aging community at a time when they need it the most.

"I think this has become a symbol for the people here that they know their comfort and safety will be taken care of," said Rep. Sol Kaho'ohalahala, as he stood outside the Kalaupapa Care Home room that held two new dialysis machines - the lifeline for Nalaielua and the reason he could return home after more than a year at Leahi Hospital on Oahu.

When state health officials said the small population of Kalaupapa coupled with the expense of on-site dialysis made it nearly impossible to bring back the vital service, it appeared that the end of the community was near. The 35 or so residents of Kalaupapa are the last of the thousands of men, women and children who were exiled to the isolated peninsula for more than a century because they had leprosy (now called Hansen's disease). Even though a state law says that the patients, all now cured, will be allowed to live in Kalaupapa as long as they want with adequate health care and services, when Nalaielua was forced to leave his home to receive dialysis on Oahu, many of his friends feared they faced a similar fate.

"I'd rather have only two years left on this Earth and spend them at Kalaupapa than spend four years at Leahi," said Nalaielua, looking relaxed now that he was back in the place where he has lived for more than 60 years. "This is my home. This is the lifestyle we're used to - that's what's missing when you're gone and you can't get it unless you come home. I wanted to come home."

His friends wanted him home, too, and they turned out to be a small army brimming with ideas and possibilities of how to make that happen. Over the last year, a multipronged partnership evolved that vowed its commitment to the Kalaupapa community, no matter how small the numbers.

"You were brought here, you were separated from your families and you made the best of it," said Colette Machado, the usually tough-talking Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee who found herself in tears as she addressed Nalaielua and the other patients. "It's not too much to ask that your quality of life should be what you want it to be."

Machado was at the forefront of the movement that involved OHA, St. Francis Medical Center, Na Pu'uwai Native Hawaiian Health Care System based in Kaunakakai, Ke Aupuni Lokahi/Molokai Enterprise Community, Molokai Rural Development Project, state legislators, the Kalaupapa Patients Advisory Council and Ka 'Ohana O Kalaupapa along with the state Department of Health.

"It took many hands and many hours to work through all the challenges," said Kaho'ohalahala.

The OHA trustees voted to pay the $65,820 needed for the machines, St. Francis provided training and Na Pu'uwai Executive Director Billy Akutagawa coordinated the effort.

For Akutagawa, it was a mission to help a friend and mentor. About 10 years ago, Akutagawa was a dialysis patient, too, until he received a kidney transplant from his brother. When he heard about Nalaielua, a board member of Na Pu'uwai, Akutagawa led the charge, pulling the group together.

Stacy Crivello, on the boards of Na Pu'uwai and Ke Aupuni Lokahi, felt a personal need to help, as well. Her mother, the late Auntie Mae Helm, one of Molokai's most beloved kupuna, had to leave her homestead because there was no dialysis on the island's topside when her kidneys failed. In her mother's memory, Crivello was part of the partnership that opened the dialysis center in Kaunakakai in the winter of 2000.

"I remember hearing your pain," said Crivello. "We heard those same cries years ago on topside."

State Health Director Dr. Chiyome Fukino thanked the network for helping to restore the service.

"It's something I believe the department would not have been able to do alone," acknowledged Fukino while vowing to maintain the quality of life for the patients.

Dialysis had been at Kalaupapa for about 30 years before the machines were taken out in 1998 during the renovation of the care home. Since then, anyone who needed dialysis had to move to Leahi, never again to live at home with the friends who have become family. Because the patients have had to take scores of medicines over the years, their kidneys suffered, leaving many of them as dialysis candidates.

"The credit goes to Henry because he touched all of your hearts," said Kuulei Bell, the longtime Kalaupapa postmaster. "It was Henry who begged, but he did it for all of those who might have to come on the machine later."

The community also got an official introduction to Georgina "Jenny" Naeole, the young woman from topside Molokai who will serve as dialysis technician three days a week and help other patients the other two days. Already, Naeole and Nalaielua looked like ohana, laughing and talking story.

As Nalaielua cut the lei of palapalai ferns that had been gathered by Penny Martin at the Kalaupapa lookout, he was overwhelmed with what his plight had produced - and in such a short time.

"It's a great feeling to know that something like this cannot have an ending, but have a new beginning," he said. "For this, I will always be grateful and for this I know that my life has been extended for a few more years."

Better yet, that life will be lived at home.

May 3, 2004

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