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Pressing forward in faith and unity allows student couple to get through difficult medical trial

landscape close-up shot of husband and wife holding hands with black and red-, yellow-, and blue-striped clothing in the background
Steve and Foloi Vaiouga hold hands as a show of support for each other as they endured a difficult medical trial.

At the end of 2020, a medical issue drove Steve and Foloi Vaiouga to rely on each other and their faith in God to push through, shared Foloi Vaiouga.

She said she and her husband struggled financially, with their health and academics, but with prayer and ensuring God’s involvement in their plans, they managed to make it through.

Foloi Vaiouga, a senior social work major from Samoa, said she was diagnosed with a condition that caused abnormal bleeding. She said she would feel “faded out” during her classes but would force herself to attend them anyway.

“It’s something that I must do, but at the same time, my body couldn't handle it.” She said the BYU–Hawaii Health Center doctors put her on medications but didn’t give her a firm diagnosis of her condition.

One day, Foloi Vaiouga said, her blood level got down to f5 percent, and she was rushed to Kahuku Hospital where she received a blood transfusion and was referred to an obstetrician.

landscape shot of Steve and Foloi Vaiouga shitting on a bench holding hands and smiling for the camera outside of TVA
Steve and Foloi Vaiouga are both social work majors from Samoa.

She said this doctor detected blood polyps and said her condition would require surgery if a follow-up appointment showed the same results with blood polyps.

Steve Vaiouga, a senior social work major from Samoa, said his wife was considering surgery, however, it would have been too expensive to pay. In their prayers, he said, they would ask God why this was happening to them, and they felt like they were losing hope.

After testing and a follow-up appointment, the doctor detected no blood polyps. She wouldn’t need surgery.

Foloi Vaiouga said, “It was such a miracle when we went to the doctor and he said it [polyps] wasn’t there.” She said she received two more blood transfusions that helped her feel better again.

Due to their situation, Steve Vaiouga said, he missed many classes but communicated with their professors who understood their situation and extended deadlines for them.

Foloi Vaiouga added, “It was the goodness of the Lord that we passed all our classes and managed to get through it.”

From this experience, Steve Vaiouga said, they learned to keep the faith, never lose hope in God and “always remember that tomorrow is going to be a great day.”

The Lord is well aware of people's needs if they are willing to work with him, he added.

A positive mindset

Foloi Vaiouga said pushing forward and never giving up helped them push through their adversity. “If I had to give up right now, then what’s the point of all the other years that I went through, coming here seeking for a better education?”

Steve Vaiouga said having a positive mindset helped them during this experience. During weekly planning and evaluations, he said, they would tell themselves, “Tomorrow is going to be a great day, no matter what happened today.”

Because they had faith, everything else fell into place. God would never give us trials for nothing, and their experience was a test of faith.
Nevah Alefosio

He said they wanted to seek help but also didn’t want to become a burden to anyone else. Their close group of friends would always offer help in their times of need, he added.

Kathy Brown, a junior psychology major from Samoa and Steve and Foloi Vaiouga’s friend, said the Vaiougas were grateful for whatever help they received. She said they are very independent people and don’t ask for a lot of help, and they have been generous to provide support for Brown during her own difficulties. “They’re my friends, but they are my family too.”

Nevah Alefosio, a BYUH alumna from Samoa and friend of the Vaiougas, said their faith taught her to be patient during her life challenges. “It gives me that mindset that after [you] go through this struggle, there’s something more coming. It’s a blessing or it’s a lesson for [me] to learn.”

During the ordeal, Alefosio said, the Vaiouga’s enjoyed serving others and attending service projects for the school. They even held family home evening nights for their friend group, she said.

During a family home evening, Alefosio said, Steve Vaiouga shared how they never worried but always prayed and did everything they could to ensure they passed their classes.

“Because they had faith, everything else fell into place,” she added. “God would never give us trials for nothing, and their experience was a test of faith.”

Companionship unity

Each Sunday, Foloi Vaiouga said, they would plan out their week and had companionship inventories to reflect on their growth as a couple.

By doing so, she added, they were making sure they didn’t overwork themselves and were there for each other. It was an opportunity to help them become closer as partners and improve their relationship, she said.

Weekly planning helped them plan and prepare for doctor’s appointments and assignment deadlines, said Steve Vaiouga. At times, he said, he had to miss class to take his wife to her appointments and ensure she would be taken care of when he was in class.

landscape shot of a couple standing at the monthly whiteboard calendar hanging on the wall of a married housing apartment with markers in hand discussing their plans for the week
Foloi and Steve Vaiouga said weekly planning and companionship inventories helped them keep track of school, work and doctor's appointments.

During this trial, he said, family and friends would constantly ask about their plans on starting a family. He said their families didn’t understand their situation and it added pressure to his wife’s situation, causing her to isolate herself at times. It would drain his energy balancing schoolwork, work and their situation, he said.

To avoid frustration, Steve Vaiouga said, he realized he needed to process his thoughts and understand that God is aware of their situation. “That’s more than enough for me to get through this and to basically be strong for her throughout this whole time.”

Foloi Vaiouga said her major has helped her deal with the depression she was developing by teaching her to recognize and understand the symptoms she was experiencing. The social work major puts a lot of importance on self-care and it has been a huge benefit in her situation, she shared.

Plans to Go Forth and Serve in Samoa

Following graduation and further training, Foloi Vaiouga shared, she and her husband plan to open a clinic in Samoa for therapeutic purposes.

In the Pacific, she said, mental health isn’t widely discussed or handled wisely. “People don’t understand mental illness, what it is, the barriers and how to express yourself when you’re going through something.”

Steve Vaiouga shared he wants to help resolve social issues in Samoa such as family violence and street vendors. He said families don’t reach out for help and most often keep their issues to themselves. Street vendors, he added, involve children who sell items on the streets and, therefore, don’t go to school. “I feel like the culture itself is not really helping people to see the professional ways of dealing with these issues.”

He said he also wants to work in the correctional system and create a halfway home for prisoners, he said. A halfway home, he said, allows therapy and prepares prisoners to re-enter their communities.