Peleiupu “Leo” Leiatau was a gentle giant at 6-foot-2, and though he seemed intimidating at first glance, he always went out of his way to say hello to anyone he didn’t know.
He had the innate ability to make something out of nothing – whether it was cooking or learning to play a song just by listening to it. Family was of great importance to him, not only his own, but also his in-laws. He even took care of both of his wife’s grandfathers, cooking for them and simply spending time with them. For his two daughters, Francis and Sariah, he took extra care, even if they were just going to the park Leo always packed extra food and clothes – just in case.
Leo had a big heart, but he also struggled with cardiac problems his entire life. He was born with a congenital heart defect – a hole in his heart – and at just two months old had open heart surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The surgery was a success and Leo experienced healthy growth as a child. Years later, in 2009, he fell ill and noticed that his legs were swollen. A true testament to his kindness, he choose not to go to the hospital because he didn’t want sirens to wake anyone sleeping in the house. The next morning his wife, Jacinta, took him to the hospital to learn that one of his heart valves wasn’t pumping correctly. After that he was more careful about monitoring his heart and activity levels.
During the summer of 2013, Leo missed several calls from family members while playing basketball. When he returned the calls, he was given the news that his mother had passed away. Leo immediately collapsed, laying. He had suffered cardiac arrest, and lay unconscious on the court. When he came to, he had little concern regarding his own health, and instead went to be with his family to honor his mother.
Following the loss of his mother, Leo suffered more scares with his heart and it was determined that he needed a pacemaker. Surgery was scheduled and while he waited for his surgery, he wore a LifeVest – a wearable defibrillator – at all times.
On October 29, 2013 while in the shower – the only place he couldn’t wear his LifeVest – Leo went into cardiac arrest. This time he didn’t get up. He was rushed to the hospital where his heart stopped multiple times. Four days later, Leo still showed no signs of brain activity.
Over the next day and night, hundreds of family and friends came to visit Leo and pay their condolences, the community that he had loved and taken care of now love and support his family.
His wife Jacinta had known that Leo wanted to be a donor, she had taught him what organ donation was. He had said to her “If I can help save somebody, why not do it?” When the couple renewed their licenses in 2010, Leo made sure that he had the organ donor hearts on his. The importance of donation was even more relevant in their family as Leo’s mother had died while waiting for a kidney transplant. Fortunately, Leo was able donate both of his kidneys and through this save two lives.
Jacinta said, “To many he was a gentle giant, to me, he was everything”.