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Marching for life

LIHUE — Zoe Carvalho of Kilauea may only be 9, but many who know her say she has accomplished a lot during her years.

The fourth-grader at Elsie H. Wilcox Elementary School has taken up swimming at Mokihana Aquatics, taiko drumming at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Lihue, and basketball with the Kauai Police Athletic League in Kilauea.

But one of the accomplishments that Zoe’s parents, Lisa Ubay and Ken Carvalho, treasure most are the awards that recognize her as one of the state’s top March of Dimes fundraisers.

“We’re very proud of her,” March of Dimes Board Member Cheryl Ann Farrell said. “We can’t wait till she’s old enough to run in the event.”

For the past five years, Zoe has been recognized as a March of Dimes Golden K walker or fundraiser for the nonprofit’s March for Babies walk — a recognition for those who raise at least $1,000 for the annual event.

This year, Zoe, who has served as an ambassador for the organization since 2007, raised $4,522 for the March for Babies walk at Lydgate Park, making her the top walker or fundraiser in the state.

When asked why she continues to participate in the fundraiser each year, Zoe replied succinctly, “Because they help me.”   

Ubay said the cause itself and the organization’s mission to promote healthy pregnancies and support families is something that she’s familiar with.

Nearly nine years ago, Ubay was suffering from pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome, a life-threatening liver disorder, while she was pregnant with Zoe.

The situation, Ubay said, was critical and required a 13-hour wait for a helicopter to medivac her and her husband to Kapiolani Medical Center on Oahu.

“When I got to Oahu, the doctor prepped me and said, ‘It’s your life that we’re trying to save. We don’t think we’ll be able to save your daughter’s life,’” Ubay recalled. “It was so critical that they told my husband that he couldn’t come into the delivery room.”

But, through it all, Zoe was born on April 14, 2004. She was about 28 weeks premature and weighed only one pound, 12 ounces.

“When you have faith in God, miracles happen,” Ubay said. “We call her (Zoe) a miracle baby.”

It is how, Ubay said, she and her husband chose Zoe’s first name, which translates to “life” in Greek, and her middle name, Makanamaikalani, or a “a gift from God” in Hawaiian.

Since then, Ubay credits support from her employers, family and friends and several nonprofit organizations, including the March of Dimes and the Ronald McDonald House, for helping her family get through that rough time.

“We praise God for that, and every once in a while, we try to remind ourselves of how fortunate we are that we have her (Zoe) and she’s doing really well and wanting to go out in the community to help other babies,” Ubay said.

Zoe’s drive to keep the effort going, even during busy months or difficult circumstances, has helped her mature over the past five years, Ubay said.

This year’s fundraising effort in particular, Ubay said, was in limbo for a while because it happened immediately after her mother died in February.

“I went to her (Zoey) and I said, ‘Baby, I don’t think we should do the walk this year,’ and I told my husband, ‘I don’t have the energy to all of that,’” Ubay said. “She (Zoey) came back full force and said, ‘I want to do it. We have to do it, mom,’ I looked at my husband and I said, ‘What are we going to do? We have to take her lead.’ She has inspired me to continue.”

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