Little Toakau Teraira, who has just turned four, can’t stray far from his small home on Christmas Island in the Central Pacific without one of his parents ushering him back to relative safety.
Because Toakau has severe Type A hemophilia, he needs to avoid the crashing surf, pieces of coral sticking out of the atoll sand, and everything sharp.
You would call Toakau’s parents overly protective, and you can’t blame them. Both of Toakau’s brothers have died of uncontrollable bleeding. Toakau is their last remaining son.
Their home is in one of the most remote places on earth, in the Central Pacific along the equator, 1,200 miles south of the Hawaiian Islands and 1,000 miles north of Tahiti.
Christmas Island and it’s two neighboring islands, Tabaurean and Teraina, are home to more than 10,000 islanders, isolated from the rest of the world in every sense. Their country is called Kiribati (pronounced Kiribass), consisting of 31 atolls strewn across the equator for more than 2,000 miles. The capital of Kiribati is Tarawa, more than 2,000 miles from Christmas Island where Toakau and his parents live.
Supply ships don‘t come often, but there is a once-a-week Air Pacific flight that touches down at Christmas Island, and a once-a-month air cargo flight from Honolulu bringing basic supplies, as well as a small cargo sailing vessel that calls about four times a year.
Most live a subsistence life, catching fish and harvesting coconuts.
While Toakau can’t play with the other children, he is blessed in one respect. His father is the medical doctor on Christmas Island.
Late last year, Toakau’s uncontrollable internal bleeding was only stopped by massive infusions of whole blood, administered by his father, Dr. Teraira Bangao. His father knew life for his son couldn’t continue this way. Toakau had already lost his two brothers, one to a big haematoma and the other to an intracranial hemorrhage. A male cousin (mothers are siblings) also died after having blunt trauma to the abdomen, and an uncle also died after uncontrolled bleeding from a head injury.
There was no place within Kiribati to turn…no place within the country to have the blood disorder diagnosed and absolutely no place within the small country to receive the medication needed to help keep him alive.
But thanks to many who rallied to help, this story has a happy ending.
Dr. Teraira, who is a modest, intelligent and compassionate physician, was initially reluctant to ask for help because…as he told us later…‘there are so many in our small country who are suffering and need help and I didn’t want to ask for myself.’
At Toakau’s mother’s urging, Dr. Teraira asked us at Pacific Islands Medical Aid to see if we could help.
Dr. George Buchanan, MD, one of our nation’s best hemophilia specialists, offered to help Toakau at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and recommended one of his former students, Dr. Desiree Medeiros at the Kapiolani Medical Center in Honolulu, because she was closer to Christmas Island.
Dr. Medeiros agreed right away to help, and we flew Toakau and his mother to Honolulu for diagnosis and recommended treatment. The very next day, the diagnosis was severe Type A hemophilia, requiring Factor VIII medicine.
Ms. Chanel Galario at Kapiolani Medical Center began some research in hopes of finding life-saving medicine for Toakau and was introduced to the wonderful humanitarian charity LA Kelley and it’s chief executive, Zoraida, dedicated to providing Factor in isolated regions of the world where it would not otherewise be available.
Thanks to LA Kelley, Toakau’s father now has the medicine to administer to stop the bleeding whenever Toakau needs it !
It was a team effort with a happy ending.