Dr. Kekoa Tappara said he was a terrible student before he was accepted to Kamehameha Schools in the seventh grade. He credits the encouragement of his teachers and the support of the KS ‘ohana for changing the trajectory of his life.
“My experience at Kamehameha was transformative and I wouldn’t be where I am today without that experience,” said the 2008 KS Kapālama graduate, who, as a swimmer, earned an athletic scholarship to Fairfield University in Connecticut. “My teachers really inspired me to not only think about my education but also our kuleana to our lāhui.”
Today, this former “terrible student” is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine with a specialty in cancer biology—a career path inspired by his experience with losing family members to the disease.
Now in his fourth year at the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine in Rochester, Minn., Dr. Tappara is focusing on improving cardiac sparing techniques to reduce long term cardiovascular disease for Hodgkin Lymphoma survivors.
His goal is to return to Hawai‘i and fight this disease, especially within the Native Hawaiian communities.
“Native Hawaiians are diagnosed with some of the most aggressive and high staged cancers,” said Tappara, who witnessed cancer’s affects firsthand while helping at the Waimānalo Health Center one summer. “It's a long journey but I definitely want to come home and serve our lāhui.”
In the meantime, Dr. Tappara is serving from a far as a donor to the Pauahi Foundation—a move he made as a college student realizing the impact Pauahi has made in his life.
“I wish I could tell Pauahi what her legacy has meant in terms of setting me up for success. She’s changed my life and really inspired me to go into a field where I can give back as well,” Tappara added.