“You’re borderline diabetic,” said the doctor.
She heard the words, but they did not sink in. “I did not pay much attention to the doctor’s warning,” said Hannah Kahe‘e, known by many as Aunty Midge.
She went on with her daily life, business as usual. Soon after that appointment, she went in for further blood tests. She was shocked when the doctor informed her she had diabetes. “It felt like it happened overnight,” she said.
Aunty Midge is a three-time cancer survivor, a retired school bus driver, and a very active kupuna in our Hawaii Island community. An all-around strong, persevering woman who never imagined she would have diabetes, she shared: “It wasn’t the cancer that got me down, it was the diabetes. I felt I should have done more to prevent it.”
In her true determined nature, Aunty Midge set out to make the right changes to be healthier. She was already a member of the Hui Malama Ola Na ‘Oiwi cancer support group, Malama Ka Pili Pa‘a. She joined the Hui Malama Diabetes Support Group and attended diabetes-management classes. She learned what to eat, how stress can impact diabetes, and what complications to be aware of.
Aunty Midge is one of 142,000 people in Hawaii with diabetes. Hawaii and Hawaii Island, specifically, has had high rates of diabetes, hypertension, cancer and obesity for decades, with even higher rates seen in the Native Hawaiian population.
Because of this, and with the leadership of Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, the Native Hawaiian Health Care Act was passed in 1988 (later renewed in 1992 as the Native Hawaiian Health Care Improvement Act). With the act, five Native Hawaiian health care systems were established across the state. Hui Malama Ola Na ‘Oiwi serves as the system for Hawaii Island.
For 27 years, Hui Malama has worked to reduce the incidences of diabetes, hypertension, and other health concerns prevalent on the island. Today, the agency offers year-round and islandwide classes focused on diabetes management, hypertension, and nutrition.
In the last two years alone, Hui Malama has launched the Healthy Hapai program that offers prenatal and infant support to parents; the “Grow Your Own La‘au” program that aims to provide the community with ‘ike (knowledge) to grow their own plants; and the ever-growing Makau Kino Exercise and Fitness program that brings zumba, yoga and a basic stretch and strengthening class to the community.
In addition, Hui Malama offers a traditional Hawaiian healing program, an immunization program for keiki, as well as the much needed Kokua Hali Specialty Transportation Program that offers transportation to medical appointments for those with mobility restrictions that require the assistance of durable medical equipment (e.g. wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, and canes), or visually impaired patients requiring a blind walking stick.
Hui Malama is developing a medical services program to address unmet needs on the island. Recently joining the staff team are Dr. Gaku Yamaguchi, registered nurse Ikaika Moreno, and social worker Donna Dennerlein. Services are anticipated to begin in early 2019 to include home health visits.
Hui Malama is in a time of growth and “ho‘iho‘i,” said Executive Director Louis Hao.
“Ho‘iho‘i, to replenish, restore, renew … we are in a time of development and new directions,” he said. “Our medical program aims to offer something different for the community. We are going mobile, meaning we are going to the people, to their homes. We are trying to increase access to quality health care for all our people on the island, particularly rural areas with limited resources.”
While Hui Malama services continue to evolve, our heart and purpose remain the same as the day we opened our doors, to improve the health of Native Hawaiians and our Hawaii Island community.
“I don’t have to stand alone,” says Aunty Midge, “I find sharing, caring and community at Hui Malama.”
For more information, visit HMONO.org or call (808) 969-9220.
This column was prepared by Community First, a nonprofit established by Barry Taniguchi of KTA Super Stores to help the community respond to the health-care cost crisis and support initiatives that change health care from just treating disease to caring for health.