Remembering the lasting legacy for Native Hawaiian Health left by Richard Kekuni Akana Blaisdell

February 12, 2016  |   |  3 Comments
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Richard Kekuni Blaisdell, founding chair of the Department of Medicine at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaiʻi, died of respiratory failure on February 12 at The Queen’s Medical Center. Surrounded by immediate family, Blaisdell passed with peace and dignity. He was 90 years old.

“Dr. Blaisdell is considered a treasure to every class that has ever graduated from our medical school,” said Jerris R. Hedges, dean of the School of Medicine.

Richard Kekuni Blaisdell

Richard Kekuni Blaisdell

Dr. Blaisdell was revered as a kauka, or healer, in our state’s Native Hawaiian community, and as a tireless advocate for learning and increased opportunities for Hawaiʻi citizens. In 1983, Blaisdell helped author a groundbreaking paper that called attention to declining health among Native Hawaiians in their native land. His scholarship and leadership eventually led to legislation and considerable funding from the U.S. Congress for programs that directly impact the health of Native Hawaiians.

A 1942 graduate of Kamehameha Schools, Blaisdell became an expert in the medical fields of hematology and pathology. He served in the U.S. military and was appointed to the U.S. Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission in Hiroshima and Nagasaki following World War II, to study the affects of radiation on people exposed to the atomic bombs exploded in those cities. While in Japan, he adopted a war orphan who was almost two years old.

“I was single when I met little Mitsunori,” said Blaisdell. “I took him back with me to the University of Chicago where I was working. And within a year, I met a lovely nurse, Irene Saito, a Waimalalo girl. “We were married and Mitsunori, we called him Mitch, was best man at our wedding.”

In 1966, Blaisdell was recruited from the University of Chicago to become the first chair of medicine at the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaiʻi. He served as chairman and professor of medicine and then upon his retirement in 2010, he served as emeritus professor until his death.

Blaisdell is survived by son, Mitch, daughter, Nalani Blaisdell-Brennan and grandchildren Melissa Blaisdell, Billy Brennan, Malia Brennan and Jacob Blaisdell.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell Proposed Chair in Native Hawaiian Health at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (account#127-2010-2). (Please make your check payable to UH Foundation).

Hoʻolewa: a Celebration of Life

Hoʻolewa: a Celebration of Life for Richard Kekuni Blaisdell will be held on Saturday, March 12 at the John A. Burns School of Medicine. Visitations begins at 9 a.m. with services at 11 a.m., and Nā Haliʻa Aloha following the service.

Richard Kekuni Blaisdell

Richard Kekuni Blaisdell surrounded by his daughter Nalani Blaisdell and greeted by Kalani Brady, in the John A. Burn School of Medicine’s Native Hawaiian Healing Garden.

Richard Kekuni Blaisdell receives UH Mānoa honorary doctorate of humane letters

Read more at the John A. Burns School of Medicine website.

In May of 2014, Native Hawaiian faculty from various parts of the University of Hawaiʻi joined their voices in a special oli, or chant, to salute Blaisdell, as he was presented an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

The celebration, during the 2014 Advanced Degrees Commencement Ceremony at the Stan Sheriff Center, honored Blaisdell for his contributions to the University of Hawaiʻi medical school, hundreds of Native Hawaiian physicians and service to the United States.

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  1. Lisa Cohen says:

    Dr. Blaisdell taught my father, Alan Pavel, at the University of Chicago School of Medicine in the late 1950’s. My father was inspired by his great teacher, and was reunited with Kekuni when we moved to Hawaii in in the 1960’s. When I worked at St. Francis Medical Center, I met Kekuni, and my dad told me to treat him well, as he was a treasure. I imagine their two souls out there somewhere – having a beer and talking story. Aloha, Kekuni.

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