DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kapiolani Medical Center celebrated 25 years of service this week with the Children's Miracle Network, a national program that provides health care for children. The medical center named Kaela Teho, an 8-year-old acute lymphocyctic leukemia survivor, as its 2008 Champions Across America "Champion Child." During the program she posed with her father, Matt Teho, left, and her pediatric oncologist, Dr. Robert Wilkinson.
Eight-year-old Kaela Teho is raising money to aid her fellow leukemia patients
Kaela Teho, who has battled leukemia by taking part in a national clinical trial with cutting-edge medicine, is Hawaii's precocious "Champion Child" for the Children's Miracle Network.
"She has had some hard times, but she's a real fighter, like all the other kids," said Dr. Robert Wilkinson.
"I can't wait until I'm old enough to volunteer at Kapiolani Medical Center," 8-year-old Teho told Kapiolani Children's Miracle Network leaders and supporters.
They gathered at the hospital this week to honor Teho, a leukemia survivor, and celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Kapiolani Children's Miracle Network. Staff and children at the hospital surprised her with a banner they signed, saying, "Mahalo Kaela. Kapiolani's Champion."
Teho was Hawaii's ambassador last month at the national Children's Miracle Network Program in Washington, D.C., and Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
Stacey Acma, Kapiolani Children's Miracle Network director, said it has raised $8 million on a grass-roots level -- $1 at a time -- since it began as one of 170 hospital affiliates of the network worldwide.
The 2008-2009 Hawaii campaign kicked off yesterday with the network's largest fundraising goal: $650,000.
All of the money stays in Hawaii to help families with hospitalized children, to assist uninsured women and children and pay for medical equipment, education and research.
The hospital treated 62,000 children last year, from neonatal care to broken bones and cancer.
Choosing one patient to represent Hawaii as the "Champion Child" is "really hard," Acma said.
She said Teho's "quirky personality," making people smile and laugh despite "terrible drugs to fight a terrible disease," was just one of her many qualifications.
Kaela, daughter of Kendis and Matt Teho, was diagnosed with leukemia at age 5. She endured a long chemotherapy regimen, infections, side effects and pneumonia several times.
She collected about 400 "Beads of Courage," one for each milestone in her treatment. "That's when I lost my hair," she said, pointing to one. Did that bother her? "No, I wore my hat," she said. "I like hats."
Teho's mother discovered other hospitals had such a program and suggested it at Kapiolani, which adopted it to recognize the difficulties the children go through.
Teho received a "purple heart" bead when she finished chemotherapy last fall.
Doctors are watching her for any problems, but "her prognosis is excellent," said Wilkinson, a Kapiolani pediatric oncologist for more than 34 years and director of the hospital's Blood and Cancer Center.
"She's going to Iolani. If she doesn't get into Harvard, we will take the blame for that," he quipped.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann, saying he was "happy to be here today with my new Iolani School friend," gave Teho a proclamation proclaiming May as Kapiolani Children's Miracle Network Month.
"Miracles are happening here every day," said Martha Smith, Kapiolani's chief operating officer. "We do that with philanthropy," she said, thanking the network and corporate sponsors for their support.
Teho joined the fundraising effort by trick-or-treating for money during Halloween the past two years. She collected $417 in 2006 by herself, and with Iolani classmates and others raised $9,582 last year.
Matt Teho said the family received "a huge outpouring of support" when Kaela was diagnosed with cancer. "It showed we're all part of a bigger community, that a lot of people care."