Rooting for Hulali

Kalapaki Joe’s, Super Bowl Sunday isn’t just about football, food and cold cocktails.

It’s also an annual opportunity to give back, said owner Jody Valente.

As it has for the last several years, the chain of Kauai sports bars will hold a “lucky drawing” during the big game to raise money for a local person in need. This year, the fundraiser benefits Hulali Rivera, a 4-year-old from Anahola who was diagnosed at 8 months old with bilateral retinoblastoma — a rare cancer of the retinas.

Anolani Higashi, Hulali’s mother, said she recently found out what Valente and his staff were planning for her daughter and couldn’t believe it.

“We’re so blessed, you know,” she said, fighting back tears. “It’s such a hard journey for her.”

After her diagnosis, Hulali spent almost four months in California undergoing chemotherapy treatment at Los Angeles Children’s Hospital. The therapy worked, the tumors disappeared and she and her mother traveled home to Kauai.

During a monthly eye checkup three months later, however, doctors discovered that the tumors had returned, and Hulali was once again flown to Los Angeles. That second time around, the disease was even more aggressive and ultimately cost the child her right eye.

If that wasn’t hard enough, two tumors were discovered in Hulali’s brain during an MRI. After conducting a brain biopsy, doctors diagnosed her with choroid plexus papilloma — a rare, slow-growing mass of tissue that produces cerebrospinal fluid.

“Those are just benign masses, thank God,” Higashi said. “But she does an MRI every six months just to watch it.”

Since her brain surgery, Hulali has had two seizures and was recently diagnosed with epilepsy, which a neurologist believes could be a result of the biopsy procedure, according to Higashi.

“She’s 4 now, and the last two years was just such a hard road,” Higashi said. “And it’s just amazing how the island comes out to support. We’re so blessed.”

You wouldn’t know it to look at her, but Hulali has fought through a lot. While she’s doing well and been in remission for nearly two years, she’s not in the clear. The family continues to travel to Oahu and California for routine checkups.

“Everything adds up, and every little bit helps for us,” Higashi said.

The money raised at all four Kalapaki Joe’s restaurants — in Nawiliwili, Lihue, Poipu and Waimea — during the drawing will be donated to Hulali and her parents, Higashi and Kelo Rivera. The Super Bowl kicks off at 1:30 p.m., with the New England Patriots taking on the Seattle Seahawks.

Valente said people are encouraged to donate to participate in the drawing, which will include prizes from island residents and businesses. At the end of the day, the money from all four Kalapaki Joe’s will be delivered to Hulali’s family.

“It’s just really really awarding, and I love it,” Valente said. “I love the fact that we have a captive audience. And our staff is so excited and loves being part of it.”

The goal this year is to raise $5,000.

Higashi said she has been overwhelmed by the love and support her family has received since Hulali’s diagnosis — not just from friends and family, but strangers as well.

“Thank you to Jody and his staff and the rest of Kauai for their continued support for our baby,” she said. “Continue to keep her in your prayers.”

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