Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Monday, August 12, 1996

The man who needs a miracle
like Alana's

THE last time I saw Chris Pablo was about a year ago at Ala Moana Beach Park. With our respectively rambunctious keiki in tow, we exchanged the usual pleasantries. "So how ya been?" I asked. He smiled and replied, "Oh, just fine." Now I know he was lying, big time.

Actually, Chris had just been diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, a life-threatening disease whose only cure is a bone marrow transplant. Since then he has bombarded his body with daily medication as he awaits a bone marrow match - like the one experienced by Hawaii's most famous toddler, Alana Dung.

And, just as painfully, Chris has learned to ask for help.

The ordeal began in June 1995, when the lobbyist for Kaiser Permanente bit his tongue during dinner. He awoke the next morning on a blood-soaked pillow. The bleeding hadn't stopped.

After getting his tongue stitched up, Chris took various medical tests. Soon after, he and his other half, Sandy, were called into the doctor's office to receive the grim diagnosis: leukemia. "My wife started crying but I felt almost a sense of serenity," remembers Chris, 45. "Whereas there was uncertainty before, now I knew what I faced."

At first, he toughed it out alone. Chris told only his family, a few friends and his boss and associates at Kaiser. To the St. Louis High and Santa Clara University graduate, blabbing about it seemed gauche, like he was asking for sympathy.

Thank goodness for little Alana Dung. When her medical plight became known earlier this year, thousands of residents signed up with the Hawaii Bone Marrow Donor Registry Program.

Even Chris got into the act, booking the University of Hawaii Special Events Arena for one of Alana's drives, and helping at the biggest one in the Neal Blaisdell Arena. "I'm praying for her," says Chris, after a match was found for Alana in Taiwan. "She and her family raised the level of awareness about bone marrow transplants, and paved the way for us to continue."

Alana also inspired Chris to come out of the shadows. He gives informational talks on the disease to various groups, and reluctantly agrees to "star" at registry drives. The next is on Saturday, Aug. 17, from 1-5 p.m. at St. Anthony's Church in Kalihi.

Since a match and long-term survival is more likely between a donor and recipient of the same ethnicity, Chris hopes for a strong showing from the Filipino community (his mother is from San Esteban, Ilocos Sur; his father from Manaoag, Pangasinan). Furthermore, Chris asked First Lady Amelita Ramos when she was in Honolulu last week to organize a bone marrow drive when she returns to the Philippines.

CHRIS doesn't dwell on the leukemia but worries about its impact on those he loves. His 7-year-old son sits on Chris' lap and solemnly says, "I hope they find a match." Sandy quietly carries the burden of possibly ending up a widow with two young boys. Meanwhile, his friends and family tell him, "What can we do to help? Don't give up!"

So he doesn't. Chris makes speeches, coordinates donor drives, works, prays and lives. "I value every day," he says with that unconquerable smile. "I am hopeful of finding a match."

The medical books give him three to five years. But if you run into Chris today and ask how he's doing, he still might reply, "Oh, I'm just fine." In a way, maybe he is.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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