MAKAKILO (HawaiiNewsNow) - The next time your child complains about not having the latest video game or being able to go to the mall with friends, you may want to show them this story. It's about a young man with the strength of character and the sheer will to live. 14 year old Hipa Seto's daily challenges should be a lesson to us all to never take life for granted.
Hipa loves basketball, and with his Miami Heat cap and jerseys, you can guess who his favorite team is. Just 15 months ago, he was like any other teen playing basketball in his home village of Tafuna, Samoa. Then, his leg began to hurt.
Within days, he was on a plane to Hawaii - diagnosed with an aggressive form of bone cancer called osteosarcoma. At Kapiolani Children's Medical Center, doctors suggested an operation called rotationplasty. Part of Hipa's leg would be amputated and the rest reattached. He's the first child in the pacific to have rotationplasty - one of 10 surgeries he's endured.
"I'm not shy. I only get shy when the little kids stare at me, and they stare at me and they go, 'Mommy, why does he have one leg?' and then, I just go, 'Ah, man!'" Hipa says with a laugh.
"He never asks, 'Why me?'" says Hipa's mother, Vai Seto. "He understands that he's special because of what he has, and he thinks his leg is the coolest thing in the world."
But osteosarcoma is a tough adversary. Hipa survives with just one lung, the other is less than fist size because of damage caused by tumors. On May 19th, a massive tumor caused Hipa's chest to swell and put pressure on his heart. He went back to the hospital, was put on life support, and doctors prepared his parents for the worst. The next morning, Hipa signaled for something to write with.
Vai says tearfully, "We gave him paper and pen and he wrote down, 'Can I go home, please?' That was when we knew that he had enough. And that was when we knew that, as much as we wanted to keep him physically, we couldn't put him through his anymore. So, Dad and I made the hardest decision of our lives."
With extended family, their Mormon bishop, and doctors at his bedside, they pulled the plug. But instead of dying, his mom said the teenager sat up gingerly and asked, 'Where's the exit?'" Vai says, "It really showed how much he wasn't finished. He was still fighting. His body and his heart do not match."
Last year, when Hipa left his beloved Samoa, only his mother accompanied him. The Make-a-Wish Foundation asked the terminally-ill teen what he wanted. He didn't say Disneyland or an X-Box. Hipa wanted his father and three younger siblings to come to Hawaii to be near him. And with all he's been through, he still doesn't complain.
I asked him, "Do you think you've been through a lot in the last year-and-a-half?" Hipa replied, "No, I'd say no. With the love of my family and support they always give to me, everything has been very easy for me."
This is not a story about the family asking for donations or hand-outs. Hipa simply wants other cancer patients, especially children, to know: you're not alone. "Cancer patients can survive, and they know that, if they have strong faith, there's nothing to worry about," says Hipa.
Vai adds, "Our family hopes that his story will help another family who's going through something like this."
The future is uncertain, so for the Seto family, each new day with Hipa is a blessing.