Keeping Score

By Cindy Luis

Former UH-Hilo star treasures the gift of life

WHAT have you bought this week?

Portuguese sausage? Chili? Sweetbread?

How about a little hope?

That's all Alofa Tagataese Nahooikaika is asking for. And not for herself - for her four-month-old son Maika, who was born with biliary atresia, a rare and eventually fatal liver disease.

The former University of Hawaii-Hilo two-time volleyball All-American is relying on friends and faith to buy a miracle for her baby boy.

The medical bills have mounted after two operations that provided temporary adjustments in Maika's intestinal tract. The debts will skyrocket when it comes time for a liver transplant.

"It is hard to ask for this kind of help," said Nahooikaika, a member of four Vulcan national championship teams (1980-83). "It's a very sad situation, but good things are coming out of it. So many old friends are calling, and it's nice to hear from them.

"And it's been so nice to have all these people - people we don't even know - wanting to help in some way. It's so touching."

Her co-workers at Hawaii Electric Light Co. and the Vulcan Volleyball Alumnae Ohana have set up a fund for contributions called "Friends Helping Friends Helping Baby Maika."

The two groups are also organizing a fund-raising concert May 19 at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium that will feature the Kaau Crater Boys, Palolo, Na Leo Pilimehana and Halau O Kekuhi. Tickets are $15.

There's also a special T-shirt for sale, designed by Nahooikaika and her former Vulcan teammate Carla Carpenter-Kabalis. The design has breadfruit and leaves - symbolizing Maika - surrounding people holding hands around a sun. The baby's handprint is in the middle of the sun.

"The breadfruit, the ulu, represents long life in both Samoan and Hawaii cultures," said Nahooikaika, a standout player at Kaimuki High. "The sun in the center reflects the energy, and his handprint touches the circle of people."

Maika's plight has touched a number of people. Nahooikaika said the phone at the family residence is constantly ringing, with the voices of friends and strangers offering support to her, boyfriend Dudley Nahooikaika and their two young daughters, Mahealani and Makena.

"Even though this is devastating to us, it's brought our family very much together," said the MVP of the 1983 NAIA volleyball tournament. "One woman called to say she had read about our problem (in the Hilo Tribune) after a bad day at work and that it had put things in perspective for her. She said she could always find another job, but we would never have another Maika."

Alofa and Maika were in Honolulu earlier this week for more testing. The second operation has kept the bile flowing regularly but the scarring on the baby's liver continues to worsen.

Maika has been put on the American Liver Foundation list of those needing liver transplants. Alofa, who has her child's blood type, has offered to be his donor if no match is found nationally.

"This week's check-up was good, the second operation is working," said Nahooikaika. "We have some time to find a donor and prepare for a transplant."

"Maika is very strong and happy and had brought us so much happiness. I would gladly give him a part of my liver to give him a chance to live."

Without a transplant, it's doubtful that Maika would make it to his second birthday. The $300,000 operation, which takes up to eight hours, would be done at the Stanford Medical Center in Calif.

"I want to say thank you to everyone who has already helped us," said Nahooikaika. "So many people have kept him in their prayers. That's why he's so strong. It's all the prayers and faith in God."

Checks can be sent to "Friends Helping Friends Helping Baby Maika" in care of HELCO, P.O. Box 1027, Hilo, HI 96721.

Cindy Luis is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter. Her column appears weekly.

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