Over the past few weeks, first-year medical student Alexander Muto has been connecting with people and businesses in central Kentucky to help bring relief to his hurting hometown.

Muto is from Maui, an island in Hawaii that recently suffered devastating damage from wildfires. Much of the destruction impacted the city of Lahaina, where Muto grew up.

The estimated population displacement from the Pacific Disaster Center is nearly 10,000 from the wildfires. While much is still unclear, officials estimate 3,200 acres had burned and more than 100 people have died, with many more unaccounted for.

In conjunction with his wife, Kristen Muto, a cardiac sonographer, and his family’s nonprofit organization, Ignite A Life Foundation, Muto is partnering with Lexington, Ky., businesses to raise money and awareness. These businesses include Big Kahuna Hawaiian BBQ and Bad Ass Coffee, which both have Hawaiian roots. In August, along with the Mutos, they collected donations to provide supplies for those facing the aftermath.

Many Lahaina residents, Muto said, “have lost everything.”

“This will take years to rebuild,” he said, noting the economic impact from the loss of homes and jobs. “We're trying to set something up where it's more long-term support.”

In addition, Muto recently partnered with Emily Elkins, MA, Creative Arts LLP coordinator and instructor for FA 399 in the UK College of Fine Arts. She is also from Maui. Together with community partners, they are hosting a benefit concert to raise money for those affected by the disaster.

Elkins and her students are coordinating the efforts for the benefit concert as a class project and now have CFA faculty members, other Creative Arts LLP students, and UK College of Fine Arts students participating. Ignite A Life Foundation has also been able to secure an outside group to dance hula.

The event will take place at 6 p.m. on Sept. 24 at the Otis A. Singletary Center for the Arts. The team is seeking volunteers and performers.

To help with the benefit or learn how to donate to Maui fire disaster relief, contact Elkins: emily.elkins@uky.edu

About Muto’s path to medicine

Muto sees his role as a future physician as more than someone who treats patients, but rather, a community leader who can use skills and training to create healthier communities and inspire future generations.

Knowing how desperately his home state needs physicians, Muto also knows how destructive these fires have been for the communities.

Muto is passionate about rural medicine, which is why he applied to the UK College of Medicine Rural Physician Leadership Program.

His dad is a cardiologist in Maui and has been working there for over 30 years. “I basically grew up in his practice,” Muto said. In that time, he heard from countless patients – teachers, neighbors – telling him how thankful they were for his dad.

Ignite A Life Foundation was established with Muto’s dream when he was just 15 years old to bring hope and opportunities to Hawaii communities. Through this work, Muto aspires to bridge a strong connection between Hawaii’s chapter and Kentucky to address the states’ similar need for more accessible, high-quality health care in rural areas.

“If you bring back a doctor, you bring a nurse, a tech … in essence, you just added 10-plus recession-proof jobs to that community,” Muto said.