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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Kalei'opu'u extends helping hands

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

Arrianna Diaz is a third-grader, but she's missed school for a year. Her school, Kalei'opu'u Elementary in Village Park, has missed her, too.

Last March, Arrianna was diagnosed with a tumor wrapped around her spine called rhabdomyosarcoma. She's had three major surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. The school provided home-hospital tutoring for her, but then the involvement grew way beyond DOE requirements. That's when Kalei'opu'u became the Diaz's extended family.

"Her first-grade teacher would come to the house and massage Arrianna's feet," says Arrianna's mom, Julie Diaz. "And Mrs. Shishido, her second-grade teacher, would come over and bring letters from her classmates. Her kindergarten teacher wanted to see Arrianna, but she was feeling sick, so she stood outside in the yard for an hour talking to my daughter through the window."

During the grueling chemotherapy, Arrianna lost a lot of weight. Knowing that she was a fan of school lunches, particularly "pig-in-a-blanket," the hospital cafeteria tried its best to come up with an acceptable version. But Arrianna said, "It's not the same." So staff members from the school started taking cafeteria lunches to Arrianna's home. They'd send her a monthly menu and she'd circle the ones that she liked. Says Vice Principal Mark Tanji, "My cafeteria manager and the cafeteria ladies are willing to make pig-in-a-blanket for her every day if it would help."

Then came the idea for fund-raisers to help the Diaz family with the cost of medical treatment. Tanji typed up a one-page letter about Arrianna's situation to brief the faculty. "I guess I said to my clerk, 'Make sure everybody gets one,' " Tanji says. "She understood me as 'everybody' meaning every child. I meant every teacher. It was a mistake, but it was really a nice mistake ..."

Tanji was inundated with phone calls from families wanting to help. The school started a coin drive as a way for students to contribute. Kids raided their piggy banks, and so far, have collected $1,000. A fund for donations from the community was also established at Hawai'i USA Federal Credit Union.

And on May 3, there will be a benefit concert and luncheon from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the school. Entertainers scheduled to perform include Jake Shimabukuro, Imua and Kaitlyn Kiyan. Tickets: $15.

There has been good news for Arrianna. Last week, doctors told her family that she's in remission and yesterday, she underwent an operation to remove the Hickman catheter in her chest where the chemotherapy was pumped into her body. "No Hickman, no chemo. That means she's finished," says her mom. However, she will continue on her treatment protocol for the next 15 years.

For information on how to help Kalei'opu'u Elementary with its fund-raising efforts, call 675-0266, Ext. 229.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.