Olivia: My Life of Exile in Kalaupapa

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By Olivia Robello Breitha

Our most popular book available at our Kalaupapa National Historical Park museum store, “Olivia, My Life of Exile in Kalaupapa,” has an incredible story. In 1934, at the age of 18, the life of Olivia Robello Breitha was radically changed when she was diagnosed with what would later be called Hansen's disease. th what would later be called Hansen's disease. In this, her life story, Olivia has put in writing her thoughts and the events of her life. This is a “must read” if you are interested in the history and lives of Kalaupapa Historical National Park.

"When I accepted the job as the doctor for the Hansen's patients in Kalaupapa in 2003, it was a bit overwhelming because of the special aspects of the people and the history of the place. Of all the patients, one clearly stood out: Olivia Breitha. As the oldest in the settlement, and because of her strong advocacy, she was clearly one of the leaders. I was one of her choices for lunch weekly when I was in the settlement seeing patients. We used to sit, and I would be regaled with stories during this very special time! Woe to me when something got in the way of our lunch date! As her writings indicate, Olivia drew a strong parallel between Hansen's Disease and AIDS. She and the other patients had never done anything to deserve their illness, and yet they spent a long time as human guinea pigs while cures were sought. There was great fear in the islands of the possibility of transmission, and all the patients were ostracized for their disease and their appearance. Yet Olivia chose to be advocate rather than victim, educating others about Hansen's Disease and exposing prejudice. I greatly admire Olivia's example in life!” -Dr. Kalani Brady, Kalaupapa physician & University of Hawai’i Dept. of Native Hawaiian Health

"Olivia's radiant spirit survived the shock and humiliations of her diagnosis, when she was a beautiful young woman of seventeen, and her exile to Kalaupapa. That same spirit turned what might have been a life of dejection and mourning into a full, complete life with love and friends and a joy that she gave to others around her despite her own sufferings. It would have been hard not to love her." - W.S. Merwin, Pulitzer Prize-winning American author

"An unexpected medical diagnosis changed the course of young Olivia’s life. Leaving a fiancé and family behind on Oahu, her exile to Molokai completed the isolation. Yet real life was there to be found; she made friends, married, and started a business. Olivia is a very real person whose spunk and common sense pops off of the pages of her memoir. She struggled with hospital authoritarians, stood up for her rights and developed wisdom burnished by years of living under rules and regulations made to deal with the misconceptions about 'leprosy.' To the end, Olivia lived her life with down-to-earth dignity." - Elizabeth Schexnyder, Curator, National Hansen's Disease Museum

"I had the privilege of meeting Olivia on May 19, 2005 at her home in Kalaupapa. I had just been named Bishop of Honolulu, and one of the first things I wante d to do was to visit Kalaupapa, where then-Blesseds (now Saints) Damien and Marianne Cope devoted their lives in a special way to the service of those who had to live a 'life of exile in Kalaupapa.' Not only was I able to pray to our two saints to ask their prayers for me in my ministry as bishop, but I was also blessed with the visit to Olivia. She was not feeling well the day I visited, but she still had a positive spirit and a faith and love that inspired me. At the end of the visit she asked me for a blessing, but in reality it was I who was blessed by her." - Bishop Larry Silva, Catholic Diocese of Honolulu

In this, her life story, Olivia has put in writing her thoughts and the events of her life. This is a “must read” if you are interested in the history and lives of Kalaupapa Historical National Park.

Soft cover. 112 pages. Includes color photographs.

Published by Pacific Historic Parks.

The most current edition of this book has just arrived and is now available for sale!

If you are interested in the audiobook version, please click here.

By Olivia Robello Breitha




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