Ronald McDonald House
A Welcomed Homecoming
By Gene Davis
One late afternoon not too long ago, two tall gentlemen walked up to the front door of the Ronald McDonald House on Judd Hillside and hesitated, looking as though they were wondering whether or not to come inside. We invited them in, of course, and thus began an extraordinary visit to the House by Afoa “Titi” Nofoagatoto’a and his son Kennedy, of American Samoa.
We soon learned that the two, as well as Titi’s wife, Fou, and their two other children, Reagan and Renee, had stayed at the House more than eight years earlier, while Kennedy’s younger brother Jordan was fighting leukemia. They gladly shared their story with us.
Jordan had been a normal, active six–year–old boy when he was stricken and then hurriedly flown to Honolulu’s Tripler Army Hospital for treatment. Initially, only mom could come with him. Jordan’s brothers and sister were in school at the time and Titi had a job and the family business needed tending.
When doctors determined that Jordan would need chemotherapy and then a bone marrow transplant, the rest of the family flew to Hawaii and were tested as possible bone–marrow donors. Kennedy was the closest, with five out of six markers matching, but doctors wanted to keep looking for a perfect match. “That’s when I knew that it would be a long process and would require severe adjustments,” Titi said. He sold their small grocery store and was able to take temporary leave from his job. He enrolled their children in school here in Honolulu.
“We always hold our experience here at the Ronald McDonald House close to our hearts,” Titi told us. “Being able to have brothers and sister around––the whole family together–was very comforting for Jordan. We were able to give him the best possible environment.”
Things appeared to be progressing as planned, but during what was supposed to be Jordan’s final chemotherapy, he got very sick and wound up in the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital for three months.
It was then that the family was told that Jordan could not survive the transplant procedure and that there were few or no options left. The doctor gently suggested that it might be time to just let Jordan enjoy the life he had left. “We prayed, and we thought a lot about it, and we even talked to Jordan,” said Titi. “In the end, we decided to return to Samoa.”
In a remarkable gesture of caring, his two nurses at Tripler Hospital took leave from their jobs to come to Samoa to help keep him comfortable. “We turned one of the rooms in our house into a small care center for him and air conditioned it,” said Titi.
Titi said their experiences with Jordan here at the Ronald McDonald House resulted in many profound changes in their lives. Kennedy, a student at the University of Hawaii, is pursuing a career in medicine because of his experiences during Jordan’s illness. “I saw my brother in the hospital and I really wanted to be able to do something but at that age I couldn’t do anything for him,” Kennedy said regretfully. “So I figured I could maybe help others in the future not to go through that pain if I went to school and became a doctor.”
In the years following Jordan’s passing, the family opened two new businesses and has been able to build a new home. “A large one—like this,” Titi said, gesturing around him. “In fact we modeled our house to be very much like this House.”
Titi paused and then chuckled while telling us that when they were designing the new home, they looked at pictures of the Ronald McDonald House. “If you visit us, you will see a veranda and entrance very much like here. We wanted a place where people could come and stay, and a room to offer to the church for study groups.” He said the House also has a special room set aside as Jordan’s, where they keep his memory alive through photos and other memorabilia.
The family also actively supports organizations in Samoa that help children and communities. “When we were here and saw everything you were doing for families from all over, we decided that we wanted to do the same thing ourselves.
“We are so thankful for what the Ronald McDonald House gave us—a place where we could all stay together to support our son. It was so important to us and we will be forever grateful,” Titi added. “We will always treasure the memory of the family together here at the Ronald McDonald House.”