International effort underway to help save a Hawaii man’s life

An Oahu man needs a bone marrow transplant, but his perfect match is stuck far from Hawaii.

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - An international effort is underway to save a Honolulu man's life.

Fala Letini is in dire need of a bone marrow transplant.

And doctors say his sister, Vela Mauga, is a perfect match. The problem: She lives in American Samoa and the country’s airports are shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For nearly two weeks, Dr. Gary Okamoto, the chief medical officer at AlohaCare, has been working to figure out a way to reunite Mauga with her brother.

Doctors diagnosed the 22-year-old Letini with leukemia.

“The situation is dire because without the transplantation, his risk of having a serious medical complication rises rapidly,” Okamoto said.

Plans to organize flights through private cargo companies, the Air National Guard and Coast Guard all fell through. But with the help of the Lt. Governor’s Office and the American Samoan government, Mauga was able to snag a seat on a FEMA transport flight Friday afternoon.The American Samoan government office in Hawaii also assisted in the effort.

Standing tall with a big smile -- this snapshot was taken earlier this afternoon at Pago Pago airport -- just before Mauga left Samoa.
Standing tall with a big smile -- this snapshot was taken earlier this afternoon at Pago Pago airport -- just before Mauga left Samoa. (Source: Kashmira Reid)

“I believe that there’s always a way to make things happen. That’s why I never stopped,” said Feleai Tau, special assistant to Lt. Gov. Josh Green.

When Letini got the news his procedure was a go, he was elated.

“He’s a man of few words but I could tell by the intonation of what he said to me is that he is very grateful and happy that he would be joined by his sister,” Okamoto said.

After Mauga arrives in Honolulu, the siblings will then fly to California. The procedure is set for Monday at Stanford Medical Center.

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