Former UH Volleyball Standout Lily Sets Record Straight
By Wendy Osher
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT
Her name is now Lily Olteanu, but many in Hawaiʻi still remember her affectionately as Lily Kahumoku, the stand-out University of Hawaiʻi volleyball player who earned All-American honors as an outside hitter for the Rainbow Wahine.
While her career brought pride to the program, it was partially clouded in prejudice by a dark rumor, that a decade later has resurfaced with the recent announcement that former UH football coach June Jones may be applying for his old job.
The rumor of “Jones impregnating Kahumoku” was born in the days of flip phones and prior to the popularity of social media forums.
“It was absurd,” said Lily when we approached her last week to set the record straight. She recalled her emotions from years ago saying, “I didn’t do anything… I was very stubborn and I refused to let these rumors get the most of me. Moreover, I felt I had to stick to my guns; my personal life was my business and I didn’t need to justify myself to anyone.”
While confident and athletic, she also described her 20-year-old self as young and naïve. With silence as her virtue she believed the rumor would eventually go away.
“I thought this nonsense would blow over and that would be the end of it. I knew who I was and everyone who knew me, knew these rumors were false, at least this is what I believed,” said Lily. “Unfortunately,” she said, “it got worse and people started to think otherwise.”
The rumor ramped up with the power of social media, and in 2008, a blogger in Hawaiʻi posted a survey asking their audience what they thought. The poll reportedly found that 75% of respondents believed the rumor.
“I didn’t even know about this post until 2011 when my husband found it,” said Lily of the blog. That’s the moment she said, “When it finally got to me.”
It appeared to have added salt to an already festering wound. Lily and her husband Bogdan had been trying to conceive since 2009. After a year of trying, three doctors in two countries (Spain and Romania) told the couple they were unable to have children naturally.
Lily and Bogdan opted for InVitro fertilization, and after miscarriages and the heartbreaking passing of two sets of twin boys, Lily returned to Hawaiʻi last year and gave birth to a healthy baby boy in Honolulu.
“I was nine months pregnant and people still had the nerve to ask me about June Jones in front of my husband. Not only were they negatively affecting me, but they were hurting my baby, Lucian, as well,” said Lily.
“Sometimes enough is enough,” she said.
DRAWING STRENGTH FROM EXPERIENCE; Why Now?
“Why not?” said Lily. “I still believe that my private life is my own business and nobody else’s; however, we live in different times than from when these rumors started in 2001.”
“Now, social media rules the world. Regardless of what I say or do not say, people will continue to believe whatever they want and that’s just beyond my control,” she said.
Now at 34, and the mother of a healthy baby boy, Lily’s perspective is one built on experience, and one thriving on love.
“When people spread lies about you or when you lose someone you love, those experiences can be very isolating. Sometimes it helps to know someone out there understands your pain and suffering. Perhaps someone out there will draw strength from my experiences. If sharing my story can have a positive impact on someone’s life, well then, it would definitely be worth it.”
“My story is about overcoming adversity and un-dying love,” she said.
LIGHTNING AND THUNDER
Lily ended her career as a professional volleyball player in 2009 to start a family with her husband, Bogdan.
After a struggle to conceive naturally, and an initial round of InVitro fertilization, the couple became pregnant with their first set of twin boys, Kealiʻikauila (lightning) and Kahekili (thunder).
“They came too soon,” said Lily. While they were both born alive at 24 weeks in December of 2010, both died shortly after their birth.
In France, Lily said doctors refrain from drastic measures to save babies born before 25 weeks because the survival rate is so low. “If the children do survive, the likelihood of being disabled was too high,” said Lily.
“Bogdan watched our son Kili fighting for air, and begged the doctors to help him. They didn’t and he had to watch him die… We were beyond devastated and I sunk into a very dark place,” said Lily.
“When we saw this survey online a few months later it was right after a failed second round of IVF. Reading it made me literally sick to my stomach. Bogdan was deeply disturbed. I didn’t know what to do,” said Lily. It was the first time, she said that she let the rumors get the most of her.
“I cried so hard and I was profoundly upset. ‘How could people still believe this (expletive deleted), especially when I’m infertile. It’s not fair,’” said Lily.
In her vulnerability, Lily said Bogdan became her rock. “He suggested I write to the blogger, and ask them to remove the survey. I did and it was removed immediately. I was grateful and after some time I forgot about it.”
Last week, the same blogger followed up seeking permission to publish the email she had sent back in 2011. Although she did not foresee her email coming out into the public now, after so many years, Lily said she allowed the letter to be published in the hopes of clearing the air.
KAINOA AND KEKOA: Second Set of Twin Boys
Lily and Bogdan did two more rounds of IVF, which resulted in a miscarriage and their second set of twins Kainoa and Kekoa.
“The second time with twins was much different. I took every precaution, I was on bed rest, and I went to the doctor weekly. We were living in Argentina in that period and I was sure that if I did everything right, everything would turn out fine,” said Lily.
They came at 27 weeks via emergency c-section and were further along than their older brothers. “We were hopeful,” said Lily, but she described her time at the NICU as, “the hardest 10 days of our lives.”
“We were so happy and so sad, it was like bouncing back and forth between heaven and hell. When one was good the other wasn’t,” said Lily.
“One died and the other thrived. The gamut of emotion was excruciating,” she said.
The day she went to Kai’s funeral, Lily recalled feeding Koa and kissing him on the forehead before she left. “He was fine and doing quite well,” she said. Upon their return, Lily said Koa had suffered a level three brain hemorrhage and died the next evening during surgery from cardiac arrest.
“When Kai died, they put his body in a freezer in a janitorial closet, because there was no mortuary in the hospital. I was not going let my son stay there,” said Lily, and the couple rushed to have his funeral.
“After Koa died, I decided to return to Hawaiʻi to give them a proper funeral and share my story to help raise money for the March of Dimes.” The Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Stephen Tsai published an article and the couple was able to raise nearly $5,000 to help aid the fight against babies born prematurely.
THE JOURNEY TO MOTHERHOOD CONTINUED
When Lily reunited with Bogdan in Argentina, the two decided to find a surrogate mother. Their search was a success, “but in a great twist of fate, while at a fertility clinic in Buenos Aires, we discovered I was five weeks pregnant,” said Lily.
“We finally conceived naturally. We were so excited. After all of the trouble it finally happened the way God intended it to,” she said.
The two then traveled to Romania that summer to visit Bogdan’s family.
After one month, complications set in and Lily believed she was having another miscarriage.
“When we went to the doctor, he discovered something was very wrong. My beta HCG levels were increasing like I was still pregnant, but they could not find the baby in my uterus,” said Lily.
After spending 10 days in the hospital and seeing six doctors, there was no consensus on her condition.
Gestational trophoblastic disease and carcinoma were potential culprits, and Lily was advised to start an immediate round of chemotherapy. “When the doctors in Romania tried to push the third round chemo, I was at my wits end,” said Lily.
During her treatments, Lily wrote to every doctor in Europe that she could find who specialized in the rare condition, and a few of them responded including doctor Philip Savage from Charing Cross Hospital in London, England.
“We flew to London that night, and I went to see Dr. Savage the following morning. He discovered that the embryo had implanted inside of my cesarean scar and was continuing to grow outside of my uterus. He said luckily for me, the doctors in Romania gave me the correct treatment despite not knowing the right reason for it,” said Lily.
The chemotherapy terminated the fetus in the ectopic scar pregnancy and it took five months for the Beta HCG to come down to normal levels.
THE HEALING PROCESS AND FAITH
Lily said the love for her children and the support of her husband were the driving force that got her through what she described as a “horrendous time.”
“Bogdan is the best man I know,” she said. Lily continued saying, “I love my babies so much I could not fail them. Their love kept me going and giving up was simply not an option. They were here and they were real.
They love me and they would not want their mama to be a miserable wreck. They want me to be strong and happy,” said Lily.
Throughout her experience, Lily said her children gave her faith. “The love between a mother and child cannot be expressed with any words in any language. It is something you have to feel to understand. A love that strong is beyond what our five senses can interpret or what our minds can comprehend. A love like this is divine,” she said.
“I know God gave me these boys for a reason and that he took them for a reason. Their existence made me a better person, more compassionate and more understanding of the human condition,” said Lily.
“Because of them, I know a love like no other. I know joy and I know hope. I know pain and I know sorrow. I know what it means to be human, but more than anything else, I know exactly how short life can be,” she said.
“My Kili lived minutes, my Kea hours, and my Kai and Koa lived for a few days. That’s why I have to make my time here count,” said Lily.
LUCIAN –ILLUMINATED: My Beloved Beneath my Bones in my Soul
Lucian Keoki Kamakakaiwihilo, who is now almost a year old, was born of love to Lily and Bogdan Olteanu in 2014.
His first name means “illuminated one” or “the light” in Latin. His second name, Keoki, is the Hawaiian name for George, the namesake of three of his grandfathers and a great-grandfather on his maternal side.
His Hawaiian name, Kamakakaiwihilo, is literally translated as “the eye entwined in my bones,” but the kauna or double meaning is “my beloved beneath my bones in my soul,” said Lily.
“I love being a mom,” said Lily. “If I could have five more babies, I would,” she said.
“My son Lucian is a miraculous gift from heaven. I am so fascinated with him and he is growing so fast. I want to be with him as much as I possibly can, I don’t want to miss a single moment,” said Lily.
“When I look at his precious little face and those gorgeous blue eyes, I can’t help but think that this little perfect pure soul belongs to me. I made him. It’s remarkable,” said Lily of her son Lucian.
“Sometimes,” she said, “I struggle with guilt, because I’m intensely protective over him. I have trouble letting him out of my sight. I want to do right by him; but then again, I need to make sure that he is safe. I know I have deep-rooted issues with the grief over his brothers, but I hope my issues will not be too detrimental to his development,” said Lily.
Lily said she wants to teach Lucian to have good values, morals and etiquette, and just wants to be “the most patient loving mother I can be.”
“Everyone says that having a child will change your life, but you really don’t understand what that means until they come. Indeed, your life does forever change, in a good way. Being a mother is hands-down the hardest most challenging job I have ever had, but it’s also the best and most rewarding job I ever had too,” said Lily.
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery, but today is a gift, that’s why they call it the present,” said Lily, quoting Master Oogway in the film KungFu Panda.
“I think about my angel boys every single day. My Kea, Kili, Kai, and Koa, I love you,” she said.