Tuesday | November 21, 2017
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Former Big Island girl fighting leukemia dies

Big Island native Makanalani Oke Akua Konanui, known for her vigor, smile and unwavering battle against leukemia, died Wednesday. She was 15.

Makanalani, a former Hilo resident, was nothing short of a hero, her mother Cheryl Konanui said Thursday morning. She never gave up on life or lost hope despite a two-year-plus battle against leukemia that began in August 2009.

“She was our hero. Our little fighter. She never gave up,” Cheryl said. “We want people to remember her as our typical Makanalani — a rascal kid.”

Makanalani had been recuperating at home from a severe infection that showed up in January following her last round of chemotherapy in December, Cheryl said. Though home, her health began to deteriorate in April and she was later hospitalized. Her family decided to remove her from life support about 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Makanalani’s 15th birthday, April 5, was spent in bed, Cheryl said. Her birthday cake is still sitting on the family’s dining table and the real motorcycle she got as a gift sits idle.

“We haven’t even sang Happy Birthday,” Cheryl said. “There really was no birthday.”

But, the mementos Makanalani received after West Hawaii Today published an article in mid-March kept the teen’s spirits high to the end, Cheryl said. The family wished to express their deepest thanks to those who took the time to correspond with Makanalani.

Cheryl noted her daughter was in the process of writing thank-you cards at the time of her death. Her daughter greatly appreciated receiving sea shells from the Kawaihae area and other mementos and contributions, she added.

“She would ask her dad every day to check the mail and would hold the mail key,” Cheryl said. “It made her smile. Their support did help.”

Born April 5, 1997, Makanalani grew up a healthy and active child with her four sisters and one brother. She lived for a short time in Kona, attending kindergarten at Kahakai Elementary School before the family moved to Hilo, Cheryl said.

She loved camping at North Kohala’s Mahukona Beach Park where she spent time picking opihi with her father. She also enjoyed motorcycles and riding in the car with him.

“She was a running, healthy, normal kid,” Konanui said about her daughter in mid-March. “She was an overactive child until the point she got sick.”

It was the second week of August 2009 when Makanalani came down with a cold, or so Cheryl thought, when she noticed her daughter had swollen glands and bleeding and abscessed gums. On Aug. 12, Makanalani was found unresponsive at the family’s Hilo home and rushed to Hilo Medical Center.

An hour later, the family was told to go home, pack enough belongings to last a week and meet a helicopter that would take them to Kapiolani Medical Center. There, at the Oahu hospital, Makanalani was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, or AML.

AML, according to the National Institutes of Health, is a cancer that starts inside bone marrow, which is the soft tissue inside bones that helps form blood cells. The cancer grows from cells that would normally turn into white blood cells, making the body prone to and less able to fight infection.

Services for Makanalani are pending, Cheryl said. She is currently working on arrangements with an East Hawaii mortuary.

Makanalani is survived by parents, Frederick and Cheryl Konanui, of Oahu; sisters, Keshia Konanui, Tiffany Konanui, Malia Konanui and Kukui Konanui, all of Oahu; brother, Kainoa Dennis-Royston, of Hilo; maternal grandmother, Bernadette Konanui, of Hilo; paternal grandparents, Betty Royston and Lionel LaBrie, of Hilo; nieces, Honesty Royston, of Hilo, and Haley Konanui, of Oahu; nephews, Shyden Konanui, of Oahu, and Ansin Royston, of Hilo.

Condolences and contributions can be sent to the family care of Cheryl Konanui, P.O. Box 700896, Kapolei, HI, 96709. She can also be reached at 769-9911.