FOCUS on SPIRIT & HEALTH: Hipa Seto, American Samoa's eternal hero

Photo Credit: 
Faletuiga Photo/Tina Mata'afa-Elise
The family of Hipa Seto at Kakaako Park, September 2011.

[Hipa Seto was already in Hawaii at the Kapiolani Children's Medical Center receiving treatments for osteosarcoma, cancer of the bones, when I wrote about him for the Samoa News in May 2010, where it was published on the front page.

In September 2010, my children and I moved to Hawaii.

With his family gathered around him at their Makakilo home, Hipa died in June a few days after Father's Day 2011.

Hipa's mom says a month before he left, Hipa designed the t-shirts that many participants of the TEAM SETO Walk for Hipa wore Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011 at Kakaako Park. It was a "Reach the Day" event that drew cancer survivors and their families, many of Hipa's relatives, friends, church members, businesses and advocates for children's cancer research. Reach the Day "marks the tenth annual mobilization of the children's cancer community in Washington, DC to stress the need for federal funding for children's cancer research," states curesearch.org. Events took place across the US during September for Children's Cancer Awareness Month.

Hipa's mom says he always put others before him, smiled through his pain and kept the faith to the end. This is the first news story I wrote out of Hawai'i. Let Hipa Seto's legacy be an inspiration to us all.]

Vaimagalo Seto doesn't want anyone to forget her son Hipa Folau Milton Seto and with a story like his, no one should.

"I had been putting it off because I still cry so much," Vaimagalo told Faletuiga. "Hipa registered his team and worked on his shirts during the last month before he left."

On Saturday, Sept. 24, during the TEAM SETO Walk for Hipa, more than 100 people donned his design - a white t-shirt, three little red, gold and green birds perched on the words "Team Seto" on the front, "don't worry ‘bout a thing" written underneath.

"Even on our way over here I was crying," Vaimagalo said at Kakaako.

Hipa's mom worked for ANZ Amerika Samoa Bank and his dad Kelemete for Computer World in American Samoa. When Hipa was diagnosed with cancer in March 2010 at LBJ Tropical Medical Center, his parents decided to leave their jobs and stable life behind to find help for their son in Hawaii. They ventured into the "unknown" as Vai says.

It was a move thousands of Samoans before them have made. The first Samoans were recorded (according to records of the Hawaii State Public Library) living in Laie in 1925. They were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Samoans in Hawaii numbered 33 in 1925 and according to the U.S. Census, in 2000, there were 28,000 Samoans or part-Samoans living in Hawaii.

Like the Samoans who made the journey before them, the Setos had no idea where they were going to live and how they were going to survive, but took the risks for Hipa's sake. It was very challenging to say the least but they managed to find help for Hipa and now that he rests in Laie, the Seto family has decided to stay in Hawaii.

"We always want to make sure Hipa's hopes are never forgotten. We are working on opening a Non-Profit Organization called Hipa's Hope," said Vaimagalo. "Because Hipa loved Samoa so dearly and he wanted so much to return home, the foundation would aid children from American Samoa with life threatening illnesses who come to Hawaii for treatment ."

She says they have met children from Samoa who are here alone without their parents and living with relatives they barely know.
"And they have no idea about what is out there to help them," Vaimagalo said. "We want Hipa's Hope to help with transition, support and care. From immigration issues, to financial assistance, to housing to spiritual support."

Hipa's cancer involved his right distal femur and because of the tumor's location Hipa could not walk. He had to use a wheelchair or walker and could not climb stairs. The doctor required they find housing with a room on the ground floor or with an elevator. He was receiving intensive chemotherapy treatments every one to three weeks.

Families on Facebook also lent huge support to Hipa's cause, with prayers, posts and financial assistance. When his death was publicized via Facebook, mourners cried along with the Seto family, many condolences appearing on statuses and on the Seto pages.

"When we brought him home from the hospital, Dad and I decided that we would not tell him that he was dying," Vaimagalo recalled. "Hipa being the oldest worried a lot about everyone else even when he was so sick. We were told that he wouldn't make it to the next day."

He survived one whole month.

Hipa was a student at Manulele Tausala Elementary School and a devout member of the LDS Aua Ward in American Samoa. He attended Maili Kai Ward in Hawaii. He was the eldest of four children born to Kelemete and Vaimagalo of Tafuna in American Samoa.

"Hipa had many opportunities to travel and go to Disneyland or other places other kids his age might want to go to but he never said he wanted those things," his mom said. "All he wanted was to hang out with his family and get his priesthood."

The Maili Kai Ward Bishop helped and the following Sunday he was ordained with the Aaronic Priesthood.

"His last wish was to serve the sacrament. He did, two weeks before he went home," Vai said.

The next Sunday after, he served sacrament, holding his tray high as his Uncle Hipa pushed him around on the wheelchair.

"He held his tray up high. His Daddy blessed the sacrament and his brother passed sacrament beside him," said Vai. "There was not a dry eye in the whole chapel."

Hipa fought to keep a promise and stuck around another whole week for Father's Day.

Kelemete says Hipa was his right hand man, an obedient, good boy who loved looking after his siblings, helped with chores around the house and loved sports. He played basketball, soccer, football and volleyball before he got sick.

"He told his Dad that he will be there Father's Day. And he was," Vai said. "A few days after, he went home. He loved the gospel and loved his family. He was the reason my husband became a member [of the church] and now we work towards getting him and his siblings sealed to us. That was Hipa's mission. I am a proud mother because of his valiant example. I don't ever want anyone to forget my baby."

Reach the tautalatala.com newsroom at tinamataafa@gmail.com

(This story was previously published in the Samoa News.)

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