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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 14, 2001

Volcanic Ash
Heroes also come in size small

By David Shapiro

We don't get to choose how long we live. We can only control how well we live our lives.

That's why people like Rochan Pinho are so special. They teach us how it's supposed to be done.

Rochan, a fifth-grader from Pearl City Highlands Elementary School, sells homemade patriotic buttons to raise money for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He has already sent $5,000 to New York and is determined to raise the rest of his $10,000 goal.

The compelling thing about Rochan is that he has plenty of his own problems without taking on the burdens of others. The 10-year-old has inoperable cancer in his brain and spine. Chemotherapy treatments, which he can no longer tolerate, left him with gall and kidney stones.

Rochan says there are others worse off. His purpose, he says, is to take care of himself by taking care of others first.

"If you do good, you get good back," he says.

Moved by news stories about Rochan's buttons, I wrote him a letter of encouragement. That led to a phone conversation and a strong desire to meet him. I paid him a visit with my 5-year-old grandson Corwin when he set up shop at the Windward Mall last weekend. I couldn't think of a better role model for Corwin to know.

Rochan is a wisp of a boy as I gather him into my arms for a hug he willingly gives. His eyes shine with inner strength and conviction — qualities all Americans could use in these trying times.

He grins constantly as he shows off his buttons. His parents, Michael and Lori, sit at Rochan's side sharing his joy.

Many of us with disabilities talk about not letting our diseases define us. Rochan makes it so. His life isn't about cancer; it's about serving those who need his help.

"It would kill him if he couldn't do this," says his father.

In fact, Rochan was forced to stop for a time after Child Protective Services became concerned that the strain was affecting his health. He recently resumed selling his buttons on a reduced schedule.

"His doctors say they have never seen him looking happier and more energized," says Peter Trask, an attorney who is helping the Pinhos.

Rochan lights up when he talks about how he designs his buttons on an old computer, then finishes them on a button press that has seen so much duty that it's held together with wires. He had 30 different designs on display at Windward Mall.

His first designs were simple, featuring an American flag with the words, "I Love America."

But he has a talented eye for computer graphics, and his buttons have become increasingly colorful and sophisticated. One of his latest shows a dove flying out from the towers of the World Trade Center with the words, "Forever Remembered."

"The ideas just come to me," he says.

Rochan sent $5,000 and 400 buttons back to New York with state trooper and rescue worker David Bast, who was vacationing here. The two bonded and remain in touch.

The 10-year-old dreams of going to New York to meet some of the people he has helped and would love to visit the Rosie O'Donnell TV show.

Rochan doesn't know how much longer he will live, nor do any of us. But Rochan is living exactly the life he wishes, one of quality and purpose. How many of us can say the same?

Those who wish to contact Rochan Pinho can write him at 722 Hoomaemae St., Pearl City, HI 96782.

David Shapiro can be reached by e-mail at dave@volcanicash.net.