IT HAS been a long wait for 17-year-old Vilimoni Naioko and his family as they prepare to fly out this weekend to Hawaii for a life-changing operation.
Vilimoni was born with a neuro-musculoskeletal condition which resulted in one arm and a leg shorter than the other, making life for him and his family difficult. The Class Eight student of Nadi Special School will spend the next three months at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Honolulu to fix the birth defect.
"We knew that his condition could be fixed with an operation and we've been trying to get him that kind of help for a very long time," his mother Lusiana Leico said.
Mrs Leico said although her son was born with the condition, he lived his life like any other normal teenager.
"He has a lot of dreams but to be a chef is one that he wants to come true," his mother said.
The journey to making this dream a reality began in 1995. "I applied for a passport for myself and for Vilimoni in 1995 to get him to the Shriners Children's Hospital. The doctors knew about his condition and they had a file on him. After that we started to fundraise and collected about $6000 with the help of the school but things did not go according to plan and the money was lost." The set-back did not stop the family from trying again.
"We have been saving whatever we could but because my husband is a labourer and most of what he earns goes to food, bills and the children's education, it has been really hard."
Mrs Leico said they had almost lost hope when they were contacted by Rob and Lory Leacock from the Shriners Children's Hospital offering to assist Vilimoni.
"In Vilimoni's case, there is a gentleman in New Zealand who has a son with the same condition that Vilimoni has," Mr Leacock said.
"Due to his generosity and the desire to see another child receive the same surgery that his son has had, he has graciously paid for most of the costs for the US visas and airfare," she said.
Shriners Hospitals for Children is a 24-bed paediatric orthopaedic hospital, providing care for children with bone, joint and neuromuscular conditions in Hawaii and throughout the Asia Pacific region.
Mr Lealock says cost per surgery ranges from FJ$18,000 to FJ$125,000.
Vilimoni and his mother depart for Hawaii this Saturday.