By Léo Azambuja
Richard Duarte was born and raised in Pakalas, a quiet plantation village on Kaua‘i’s Westside blessed with idyllic sandy beaches dotted with coconut trees and fronting one of the best surf breaks on the planet.
And this is what this story is all about, a wealth of blessings — from immediate and extended family, close and distant friends, acquaintances, co-workers, doctors, nurses, unknown forces and many, many strangers.
It’s safe to say, Richard, a husband, a father of two and a grandfather of two, is a blessed man.
About six years ago, the 49-year-old soul surfer and career bartender started taking medication for a stubborn ulcerative colitis, a medical condition that affects the colon and can be much more than a pain in the okole. Unchecked, it can be fatal.
Despite the medication, Richard’s condition slowly worsened over time. Earlier this year, surgical intervention became critical to save his life. But the lack of available dates on Kaua‘i forced Richard to search for a Mainland hospital that would give him hope.
So in March, Richard and his wife, Leilani, found a hospital in Seattle, Wash. willing and able to operate on Richard immediately. Over the course of a month, Richard went through the knife three times, although he was originally supposed to have only one surgery. That’s how frightful his condition became and how bad he needed surgery.
All the while, Richard’s wife stayed in a hotel right next to the Seattle hospital to make sure she would give her husband the support he needed to get through the rough times. After all, ‘ohana is everything.
In the first week of April, when Richard and Leilani returned to Kaua‘i, they had a pleasant surprise. Richard’s co-workers had set up a crowdfunding online account to help to alleviate the financial stress from medical bills and living expenses.
“I had no idea,” Richard said this week about a Give Forward campaign set up by his co-workers at the Kaua‘i Marriott Resort and Beach Club. “Did you see how much money they already got?”
By April 21, the campaign had already raised more than $27,000, just shy of the $35,000 goal — and the amount is on its way to surpass the goal pretty soon. More than 140 people have already pledged all kinds of amounts to help Richard and his family.
Richard will need at least one more surgery in about six months. Until then, he will have to take it easy. He’s not sure yet if he’ll be able to work while he waits for his next surgery — the doctors strictly told him that if anything, he has to do “light duty.”
A tall fella, the ordeal took some weight from Richard’s back, literally. He went from 200 pounds to 140 pounds, although he is now up to 147 pounds and gaining weight.
But if it all goes well, Richard is expected to have a full recovery after his next surgery, and carry on with his life. He will be able to work and surf, and to continue to make friends and strengthen relationships wherever he goes.
For now, Richard still needs help, even if it’s just a positive thought. And if you would like to donate any amount to Richard’s cause — many hospital bills are yet to come — here’s the link to his Give Forward campaign, https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/5b48/richard-duarte-living-expenses-and-medical-bills-
Richard is indeed a blessed man.