Last week en route to Laramie Wyoming, the Rainbow Warriors took a detour that made national news. The Hawaii football team stopped at Craig Hospital in Colorado to visit teammate, Kalepo Naotala.
Naotala is at Craig receiving special treatment and rehabilitation for a spinal cord injury he suffered last summer. Naotala sustained injuries to his C4 and C5 vertibrae in a diving accident at Kapahulu walls in July. After the incident, the freshman was put on a ventilator, couldn't talk, and had incredibly limited movement in his upper body.
Sarah Horan, Naotala's occupational therapist at Craig Hospital, said when he was first transported to the Colorado facility he only had a "flicker of a bicep". But, after hours and hours of therapy day after day, Naotala has shown significant progress.
He's off the ventilator. He's starting to eat solid food again. He can lift his right arm, and has limited ability to move his left arm as well. Naotala says he also has increased movement in his neck and can now lean forward.
Horan attributes Naotala's progress to his attitude, as well as the positivity his family continues to show.
"He's particpating in every class we have. He's involved. He's getting to know other patients here," said Horan. "He's just motivated to learn about his injury and how to recover to the best of his ability."
While Naotala has been relentless in his fight, he admits the countless hour of routine based rehabilitation can become monotonous, But, according to Naotala, that's what made the Rainbow Warriors visit even more special.
"I was looking forward to this day," said Naotala. "It was awesome seeing all my teammates. They became my family when I got there. They took me in."
"It shows how loved he is," added Horan. "Not only does he have this huge supportive family. But, to have a team like that come here and spend hours with him - it's incredible to see. And it does, it makes us all feel so hopeful, you know everybody, all the patients, when they see that."
Naotala's battle is far from over and will require additional long-term medical care in future. But, you can help the Rainbow Warrior in his journey to be "back and better" by donating to the 'Friends of Kalepo Naotala Fund."