HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Kalaupapa community has lost another treasure.

For the 8,000 people in Hawaii diagnosed with leprosy, now called Hansen’s disease, being exiled to Kalaupapa was a death sentence. No one came back. But for 12-year-old Makia Malo, this prison was paradise.

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Over the years, the disease took his fingers, toes and eyesight, but in the late 30s, the use of sulfone drugs inhibited Hansen’s, which allowed Makia and other teens to go to Oahu for high school. His brothers Pua and Pilipili, and his sister Pearl, were also diagnosed with the disease.

Despite his disabilities, Makia learned how to play piano and enrolled at the University of Hawaii at Manoa where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in Hawaiian studies. He gained a reputation as a respected scholar and storyteller, sharing stories of his early life in Kalaupapa. In 2009, he was part of the Hawaii delegation that traveled to Rome for the canonization of Saint Damien.

Makia said it was the story of Father Damien that taught him to express his emotions.

“If I love a person, male or female, I can tell them now, I love them,” Makia said at Hale Mohalu Hospital in 2009, “because they are kind, they are nice, and that’s how I am now.”

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During the pandemic, Makia was confined at Kuakini Medical Center where he died just one week from his 87th birthday.