Sunday, August 29, 2010



Not everyone is lucky like me to have a friend like Donna. At least, I hope I'm considered her friend. Don't want to get too presumptuous.

I've known Donna and her Husband Wayne since the early 70s where I've handled their insurance on their farm, Wayne's Dairy in Waianae. Both were what I considered to be good, decent, human beings who worked hard every day, as one would expect to do when running a dairy. It is only when something happens that the normal person would consider to be a tragedy that ordinary people like the Costas begin doing extraordinary things.

Donna Costa, my hero
Over the years, the dairy industry has gone through a slow decline, mostly because of Hawaii's high property and business taxes, the Jones Act and excess regulations. Today, Hawaii has only one or two dairies left, from about a hundred 40 years ago. In the 1980s, the industry was devastated by the Heptachlor lawsuits, where the dairies were buying feed from the pineapple industry. The feed was tainted with heptachlor, which also tainted the milk.

I once thought I was helping them when they were milking. Donna began screaming at me to stop when she noticed that I was trying to milk their bull. Wayne, being a kinder, gentler person who wouldn't think of telling someone what to do, would've likely let me continue.

In May, 1994, an event happened that changed their lives. Their grandson, Cody, who was two at the time, was watching T.V. at a friend's house with a 5 year old boy who had Down syndrome. As far as they know, the boy set fire to Cody's blanket with a lighter. Cody thought he had done something bad so he hid under the burning blanket.

Cody's prognosis was dim, given only 5% chance of survival by Kapiolani Hospital. He was burned over 80% of his body. When he lived past 48 hours, the Shriners got involved and sent Cody to Galveston for specialized treatment. He was in constant pain, writhing and making mewing sounds from his scorched vocal cords. The doctors were all covered from head to toe so as to not pass on any bacteria as they daily debrided the burnt tissues. Donna wondered how a human being could withstand such intense pain and trauma without losing one's mind and spirit. But, survive he did, and eventually thrived.

Donna and Wayne gained custody over Cody in 1998 and had him involved in soccer, swimming and scouting. Donna first volunteered at the elementary school Cody attended and later became a substitute teacher so she was always close by. She stood by with a lump in her throat as other children referred to Cody as a "monster" and adults using Cody's condition as an example of "what happens when you play with matches".

Cody has had over 50 surgical operations over the years and will be getting another one in September on his eyelids.

Cody was enrolled in Island Pacific Academy in middle school and just graduated as part of their first graduating class of 2010. He was even voted by his classmates as the prom King at their Senior Prom. Cody will be attending OTIS College of Arts in Los Angeles to pursue his art. For the first time, Donna won't be close by as he attends school and goes through his daily life on his own.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Cody is considered legally blind with marginal vision. His sight deteriorated over the years because he has no eyelids or lashes to protect his eyes. The purpose of the operation in September is to try to reconstruct the eyelids. Oh, and he doesn't have hands. His right hand was amputated above the wrist and the fingers and thumb were amputated on the left hand. He just returned from S.F. where they reconstructed his upper lip since he doesn't have one. Yet, he has been able to achieve what every child needs to achieve scholastically. All with courage that I wish I had.

Cody refuses to consider himself handicapped and thus refuses to learn how to be a blind person. And he has refused the use of prosthetics.

Cody as Island Pacific 2010 Senior Prom King

I tip my hat to Donna and Wayne for guiding this fine young man. His classmates at Island Pacific Academy and the faculty were super in supporting this young man and turned him into the fine adult that he has become. And, of course, Cody for the courage and the toughness he needed to come this far. He refuses to lose at anything.

Donna didn't want me to do a feature on her. She believes that she was blessed to be given the opportunity to be a part of Cody's life and is even today, amazed at his resiliency. I am grateful that she was able to share his story with me. And with us.

He is destined to achieve greatness as a contributing member of our society. I guarantee it.

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