Lebanon man, known for giving spirit, needs kidney donation

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Anyone who has met Braulio “Sonny” Ulep and his wife, Darlette, may have encountered the Aloha Spirit, which they’ve brought with them from their home state to Lebanon.
Hawaii has a statute advising its government officials and residents to personify the “Aloha Spirit” in all their dealings.
The Aloha spirit is a philosophy of native Hawaiians to live together with mutual regard, friendliness and sincerity. “Aloha,” the statute explains, “is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence.”
It’s the essence of their relationship with just about everyone they meet.
The couple moved to Lebanon five years ago. On Halloween night they open their home to trick-or-treaters, neighbors and strangers, and offer a Hawaiian meal to those who stop by.

The Uleps built a pirate theme for 2019 Halloween, and invited friends and strangers to enjoy a Hawaiian meal. Photo courtesy of Darlette Ulep

It started the second Halloween in their new house. Situated on the corner of Kingdom and Shannon drives, the Uleps cooked up some food and asked friends to either bring a dish or a bag of candy, Braulio said.
Darlette decorated a cooler to look like a treasure chest, and it was filled with “mountains of candy,” he said.
“The cute little kids, they’d come in and they’d be intimidated with their little pumpkins, you know?” Braulio said. “I’d fill up their whole (bucket), and they’re like, ‘what are you doing?’”
But the kids were happy, and that’s what Braulio was going for.
Meanwhile, the adults would ask about the smells wafting from his garage, and he invited them inside to eat.
“So people were, like, standing in line to eat the Hawaiian food,” he said.
They made a lot of friends that way, Darlette said.
Braulio remembers growing up watching his uncle always have friends and strangers over to eat and visit.
It’s kind of like “kanikapila,” an impromptu jam session and storytelling time, hanging out in the yard together, he explained.
It was the best time to learn about needs people had, he said. Everyone would work out a plan to fix a problem. If someone asked his dad or uncle for help, they’d be invited over to eat and visit, and again, people would figure out how to help.
“It’s just something that was passed on to me,” Braulio said. “That Aloha Spirit with my family was so helpful, not only for us, but for everyone in that area that needed it.”
One reason he fell in love with Darlette was because she, too, exemplified the Aloha Spirit, he said. Her house was always filled with neighborhood kids who would come to hang out with her own kids, and she would feed and help them, he said.
“It totally reminded me of my family, of what we were doing,” he said.
And that’s a tradition he tries to carry over into his own home, Braulio said.
Originally, the Uleps planned for Darlette to be a travel nurse. Their first job was in Las Vegas, where she worked in an eight-story hospital.
During that time, Braulio was invited to do some construction work for his cousin in the Lebanon area, and the Uleps later decided to give Lebanon a try, he said. Darlette was hired at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital and has since not wanted to leave.
“I don’t think I can find a better hospital,” she said. “The community is so sweet, and I met so many nice people here.”
In 2018 and 2019, the hospital hosted artwork by Braulio. He started painting when they lived in Vegas, and has since completed works depicting safari silhouettes, Hawaiian flora, and ocean turtles and whales.

His art hangs throughout his house, adding a touch of tropical to their home. Both he and Darlette also use their creativity to make holidays festive for children.
“I just love, love, love kids,” Braulio said. “You know, seeing smiles on their faces, and trying to make sure they’re growing up straight out, you know? Like, if they’re in trouble, I’d like to be the person that makes a difference and helps them out.”
Now settled into their own house, the couple go big for Halloween and Christmas. Braulio said it started when they moved into a home on a private military base in Hawaii.
The base held a Christmas decoration competition, offering a prize to the best house. The Uleps both thought it was a good idea, but they may have gone a little overboard, Braulio said. He set up the back half of a plane, making it look like parachutes were dropping off, and he used an “insane” amount of lights, but he won.
What perplexed him, though, was when the base asked him to turn the lights off after 9 p.m. in order to not offend his neighbors. Braulio had no problem doing that, but he couldn’t find one neighbor that admitted they had a problem with it.
Later he realized what was really going on: The prize was free utilities and electricity during the month.
“I said, ‘I know what it is. They don’t want to pay that big bill!’”
He laughed as he recalled the story.
When Halloween rolled around the following year, they “went all out for that,” too, he said, and now it’s sort of a tradition.
Usually Darlette has an idea and asks Braulio to do it. He’ll build up and paint out what he can, and Darlette tweaks details to perfect it.
“I think both of us create something that looks really good when we’re done,” Darlette said. “It’s his ideas and my ideas.”
For the first Halloween in their new home, they set up a zombie apocalypse scene. Last year they built a pirate ship with cannons that shot smoke. This year it was “alien invasion.”
For Christmas, they add something new each year. Their yard has a growing train of minions, the cast of Charlie Brown ice skating, Spongebob Squarepants, Grinch and Whoville, and some personal requests, such as a unicorn, from neighborhood kids.
“I just hope I don’t get a request of something I can’t draw,” Braulio said.

It’s hard to imagine Braulio not being able to accomplish something he puts heart into, though, because it seems people are blessed by whatever he offers.
In 2016, a woman named Rochelle Pimental was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. After five rounds of chemotherapy, followed by a relapse that required more chemo, she needed a bone marrow transplant.
Braulio, who had signed up to Be The Match in 1996, was surprised to get a call from the organization, but he didn’t hesitate to help Pimental.
“On April 11, 2017, I received Sonny’s stem cells, which has put me in remission,” Pimental said. “I will forever be grateful for having Sonny save my life. I consider him family and he will always be part of my life.”
As this year draws to a close, Braulio can look back and admit it’s been a tough one with COVID, but he’s also been dealing with his own personal crisis.
Last year, Braulio had to find a new physician to check out a painful rash on his head. Some lab work was sent off, and Braulio went home to prepare for a visit to Hawaii.
The next day, he received a call instructing him to see his physician right away. He was in stage four kidney failure, with his kidneys functioning at only 32 percent.
“They were looking through the charts, and it looked like it had been failing from a while ago,” Darlette said.
When he heard his kidneys were failing and there was nothing that could be done, he laid back on the exam table and asked for a minute to take it in, she said.
“I’ve always been pretty positive, but the only thing that scared me was not being able to take care of my wife,” Braulio said, with tears in his eyes. “Everything about me is my wife.”
Lying on the table, he started thinking about all the things that needed to be done, and began spurting out a list of the things he needed to take care of.
A physician in Albany, who had been treating him for diabetes, never said anything to the Uleps about his kidneys being in trouble, Braulio said. Just a month prior, they had received a letter stating that physician would no longer be serving as their doctor, he said.

Photo courtesy of Braulio Ulep

They don’t know what happened, but they are thankful for the new team who has gathered around him these past 13 months, he said.
In that time, Braulio’s kidneys have fluctuated up and down, and they are currently functioning at 16 percent. If he drops to 11 percent, he will have to go on dialysis, which they are trying to avoid.
It’s something of a tightrope act, because Braulio was recently pre-approved to get on the list for a kidney transplant, but he must first pass a couple of tests to make sure he can withstand the surgery.
Despite all this, Braulio keeps a positive attitude.
“I think it’s frame of mind,” he said. “I just try to be positive. I have faith in God.”
Nearly every day he gets nauseous, his body is swelling, the toxins make him itch, and he’s cut down to a plant-based diet, he said.
Yet he tries to continue a happy life without stressing about small things, Braulio said. Having a good attitude is making things better for him.
“2020 was a good year,” Darlette added.
She attributes that to the fact that they caught the kidney disease just in time, and he’s “fine right now,” despite COVID slowing some medical processes down, she said.
Not only that, but about 100 people have offered to have their blood tested as a possible match for a kidney, Braulio said.
It may not be something that was discussed around a meal during one of his uncle’s gatherings, but Braulio had a need, and a community of people offered to help.
A friend who owns Mike and Billz Fire Grillz in Hawaii created “Sunnyside kimchi fried rice with kalbi” as a fundraiser, and two GoFundMe accounts were set up for Braulio. Darlette, herself, sells homemade cream puffs to raise money for the medical expenses, also.
Braulio can be followed at Instagram.com/sonnysckdjourney, where a link to his GoFundMe can be found.
For a while, Braulio kept a journal for his wife in case he passed away, but then he gave himself a pep talk.
“‘Let’s just have a beautiful life and forget about what if. Let’s just live life beautifully,’” he told himself. “And it’s so much better. So much better.”