Serving up support

POIPU — Each serve, volley and backhand was a symbol of something more than sport.

Sure, 78 players hit the court Sunday and traded shots, but each swing, each match, was a show of support for Malina Pereza, the young mother who was diagnosed with leukemia in January at the age of 26.

“We put the tournament together because we know her uncle,” said Krystyna Noe, who spearheaded Sunday’s tennis tourney to raise money for Malina and her family. “This was a true team effort.”

The mood around the matches at the Poipu Kai Tennis Courts was one of hope and community. There was no mistaking what the goal was.

“This tournament is a benefit for Malina,” Krystyna said. “One hundred percent of the proceeds go to her and her family to help with her medical expenses in her battle with leukemia.” 

Tracy Tucker, who worked with Malina at Kauai Community College, teamed with Waimea High School tennis player Marcus Pereira in the men’s division. He said that besides Krystina and her husband Herb, Michelle and Bino Fitzgerald also led the tournament efforts, and that he wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

Tucker said Malina worked at KCC as a part-time reference librarian for about a year.

“She was just wonderful,” Tucker said. “She had this skill of being able to deal with people. She got good news before the winter break, being in line to work with Tina Castro in the Tutor Section. That would have been great because of her ability to work with people.”

Malina wasn’t a tennis player, but that didn’t stop Charles Fulks, the Kauai High School tennis coach, from joining the games over the weekend. 

“She graduated from Kauai High School in 2005,” he said. “She was a student in one of my classes.”

Malina, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, type m4, couldn’t attend the fundraiser but thanked her supporters in an online post.

“I need to thank every single one of you for everything that you have done,” Malina wrote on a Web page, her first note following a period where she said exhaustion prevented her from even reading. “I am so blessed by the amount of aloha Kauai has shown to me.”

Malina said when she arrived at the Straub Clinic and Hospital in Honolulu, she was dying.

“I was bleeding on the inside, and I was battling pneumonia,” Malina said. “It is a miracle that I am here today. I know it wouldn’t have been possible without all of your prayers, thoughts, and support.”

Tucker said what followed was a series of steps to battle the leukemia, chemotherapy, bone marrow transplant, and radiation. Signs pointed to her recovery.

But on June 5, Malina’s family wrote on her fundraising Web page, that her condition has worsened.

“It is with a heavy heart that we have to share that the recent biopsy has confirmed that Malina’s leukemia has come back,” the family penned. “At this point, the doctors have no conventional treatment options for Malina as they can’t give her any more chemotherapy or radiation because of the high doses she has already received. The current plan is to work on lowering her pain medication so she becomes more mobile and alert, while at the same time, keeping her comfortable and work towards getting her released from the hospital.”

The family said Malina is going to continue to fight to get better and overcome the disease.

Noe said the tennis tournament featured an open grill and potluck with some of Malina’s family visiting the event.

“We had a goal of raising $2,000 when we put the tournament together,” Noe said. “We haven’t counted any of the money, but there were a lot of people, including many who don’t play tennis, who contributed during the luncheon.”

Tucker said community support is strong for Malina, the mother of 3-year-old Mahiehie and newly-married wife of Kimo.

“When Krystyna gave me a stack of tournament fliers for businesses to post, I thought I would have a problem,” Tucker said. “But to my surprise, everything went out because wherever I went, people knew Malina and offered their support.”

The weekend tournament wrapped up Sunday.

“I hope to meet every one of you once I’m back home and allowed to hug people,” Malina wrote. “I have lots of hugs to give. Thank you, again.”

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