Sunday, November 29, 2015         


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'Positive sparks' keep story of Maui's 'Kula San' uplifting

By Lee Cataluna


A hundred years ago a hospital for indigent tuberculosis patients was founded on Maui with $500 in seed money and the amazingly hopeful idea that an incurable disease could somehow be treated.

Striking a balance between a meticulously researched historical piece and a colorful yearbook of photos, "Kula San: Maui's Healing Place" is a stunning testament. It's hard to imagine a book about a hospital that was built in desperation to deal with a terrifying scourge could be so uplifting and at times joyful.

Patricia A. Brown, a former Chaminade professor who grew up in Kula, started collecting stories about Kula Sanitarium (renamed Kula Hospital) years ago. Her father, Clemente Antonio, worked as a nurse at Kula San in the 1950s.

"As I was growing up, my sense was that the workers liked their jobs and cared for each other and for the patients," Brown said. "I collected stories about them here and there and put them in a file mentally labeled 'someday.' 'Someday' arrived when the Kula Hospital Auxiliary, aware that I was collecting data, asked if I would write a centennial book."

Once she began the assignment, Brown had a year and a half to gather research and form a cohesive story.

"Once folks knew I was a Kula girl, who my father was and that I was writing a story about them, they were eager to share information," she said. The book contains personal recollections, historical data, even details like work schedules for the nurses and articles from the hospital newsletter. The book describes the facility's transition from a TB sanitarium to its modern mission of inpatient skilled nursing, dementia care and emergency room services.

So many suffered and died at Kula San since its inception in 1910, yet every story Brown heard had what she called a "positive spark."

The photos show this as well. Birthday parties held for the patients, hula shows by the children of the staff, even a chicken fight demonstration in the wards.

One of the stories is about a girl who was admitted to Kula San when she was 6 years old. Her uncle and mother died in the hospital, and she spent years there grappling with her own medical setbacks.

The story goes on to describe how, years later, she made her way through a GED program and got a nursing degree so she could return to Kula San and take care of people the way she was cared for as a child.

Brown will hold a book presentation at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii tomorrow from 9:30 a.m. to noon. The book is available at the JCCH gift shop as well as Hawaii Plantation Village, Kula hospital, Borders Hawaii and at


Lee Cataluna can be reached at

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