Patient's Perspective on Kalaupapa

(HawaiiNewsNow) -   Hansen's disease patients share their stories about hardships and then hope thanks to Blessed Marianne Cope.

The picturesque cliffs that greet visitors to Kalaupapa had a different effect on exiled Hansen's patients, imprisoned by their surroundings.

"2 thousand feet tall and they come straight down into the ocean, rock razor edged cliffs."

In the 1800's anyone suspected of having the disease was dumped here by boat.

"They fell into the water or were pushed into the water and sometimes had to swim the treacherous waters at Kalawao."

These harsh conditions  mirrored the harsh reality for early patients.

"When you're taken away from your home and locked up somewhere, it felt like the keys was thrown away when they sent me to Kalaupapa."  

"We were shunned a lot so naturally you felt like prisoners."

Taken from their families with no explanation.

"Nobody say anything to me, not even my family. I have to come to find out."

"In 1943, the youngest in the family, by brother Pili went up. I didn't know what was happening. Then in 1945, my sister went up and my parents never told me what was happening. All I knew was that they were disappearing from my life."

A patient named Nancy asked that we disguise her.  Her emotional scars run deeper than the physical ones.

"You know we suffered a lot. Physically our bodies deteriorated, but you know our parents? Our parents are the ones that suffered the most."

"Before the patients, when they come over here. They change their name you know why? Because they don't want to embarrass their family."

Only now, through this new picture exhibit at the Damien and Marianne Heritage Center in Waikiki are some of these dark family secrets surfacing.

"They find out their relatives born here or died here. They never heard about it. Family won't say anything about it."

Even Bishop Larry Silva had a great grandfather buried here that he didn't learn about until later in life.

"In spite of the bad memories of how we were segregated from the world, everyone was just nice normal people."   

The biggest medical segregation in history was not born out of cruel intentions.

"They had the right idea. They wanted to find out about transmission. "

These pillars are what's left of a failed experiment. At the time, it was the most expensive building construction in the state- one million dollars. The settlement at Kalawao was ill conceived.

When the first 141 people arrived in 1866, they had no shelter, few supplies and no doctor or priest.

Thanks to the care, compassion, and basic necessities championed by Father Damien and Mother Marianne, patients eventually came to like life here.

"Because of them do you think your life was better? Oh yeah, it's been much better."

"They suffered with all the scars of Hansen's disease, and yet they're happy. Even to the present time."

At its height, there were 8 thousand patients living here. There are 18 survivors today, most in their 80's.

"We're the leftovers from the period from when the disease was pretty bad."

"These patients are the last ones sentenced to life imprisonment down here in their teens, some younger. Once that era passes, this will have ended."

Only 9 patients are well enough to travel to Rome. We'll document their journey to Syracuse and then St. Peter's Square to celebrate Mother Marianne's Sainthood.