UH Med Now

2018 Hawaiʻi “Heroes” in health care include JABSOM alumni, faculty

Date: October 30th, 2018 in Alumni News, Care, Community Outreach, External News, Faculty, JABSOM News    Print or PDF

2018 Healthcare Heroes ad

Pictured: The 2018 Hawaiʻi Healthcare Association (HAH) Hawaiʻi Healthcare Heroes.

By Deborah Manog Dimaya, UH Med Now Correspondent

These heroes don’t wear capes on the job, but they do all they can to save lives, in more ways than one. Each year, the Healthcare Association of Hawaiʻi (HAH) honors individuals who are nominated by their patients or their peers, for making a huge impact in their lives and exemplifying the “best” in what they do.

Those nominated represent all areas of the health care spectrum, from direct patient care to executive administration, as well as those who advocate for government policy that improves health care access for the residents of Hawaiʻi.

“I am proud but not surprised that Hawaii has such talented healthcare professionals. I am truly glad that we could celebrate their work together,” said Hilton Raethel, HAH President and CEO.

The Annual HAH Awards and Scholarship Annual Gala, held in October at the Koʻolau Ballrooms, recognized eighteen outstanding individuals, including four with ties to the University of Hawaiʻi– three, of which, are alumni from the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM).
Dr. Christie Izutsu: UH Assistant Professor, Kidney Clinic of Hawaiʻi
2018 Healthcare Hero of Hawaiʻi

Eddie Kaneshiro nominated Dr. Izutsu, who was the nephrologist to his father, Richard Kaneshiro, before he died in February.
“It is understandable, due to the nature of the job, patients can feel like just another number. But with Dr. Izutsu, every patient is her number one priority and it shows,” said Eddie Kaneshiro.

Eddie saw that Dr. Izutsu provided quality care to his father, being present for each dialysis session, three times a week. She even arrived at 5:30am, two hours before Richard’s scheduled surgery, to provide moral support.

“The doctor that I always wanted to be was somebody that I would want caring for my own family member,” said Dr. Izutsu, JABSOM MD 2011.

Dr. Satoru Izutsu congratulates Dr. Christie Izutsu on being named “2018 Healthcare Hero.” HAH photo.

Dr. Rebecca Sawai, UH Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery at Kaiser Permanente Hawaiʻi
2018 Heathcare Hero of Hawaiʻi

When Jeffrey Peterson was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer, he had the options of living out a projected 4-6 months or fighting to extend his life through an aggressive plan that included chemotherapy, radiation and two surgeries. After initially choosing the latter, he was sometimes scared and unsure if he wanted to continue with the treatment. He sought advice from Dr. Sawai and it was her genuine nature and confidence in herself and medicine, that gave him strength to continue fighting to live.

“I trusted her (Dr. Sawai) and she coached me through important life decisions,” said Peterson. “It has now been over 2 years since my liver surgery. I have watched both my boys get married. We have a grandson on the way.”

Being on the receiving end of difficult health challenges, is something that Dr. Sawai has experienced indirectly, with her own family members.

“So I know how it feels if someone rushes through or doesn’t really explain what they mean, in plain english,” said Dr. Sawai.

She is touched by the nomination from Peterson and the thought of being called a “Healthcare Hero” when she was simply doing her job. Dr. Sawai said, “it (the award) is really special to me.”

Dr. Rebecca Sawai receives award as “2018 Healthcare Hero.” HAH photo.


Dr. Jill Omori, UH Associate Professor in Family Medicine, JABSOM
2018 Leadership Award

Dr. Jill Omori works diligently to teach medical students about the joy and importance of giving back to the community. The JABSOM 1995 alum is the founder of the UH Hawaiʻi Homeless Outreach and Medical Education (HOME) Project, a student-run mobile clinic that provides free medical services at nine locations throughout the island.

There are several clinics per week, allowing many opportunities for students to provide quality care but also to make a larger impact on the lives of both the students and patients. Dr. Omori hopes to teach her students that their passion for medicine should extend to everyone– especially to those who cannot afford it.

Dr. Omori believes the medical students at JABSOM graduate and enter the workforce as physicians with a strong sense of character, responsibility and true empathy as a result of participating the HOME Project.

Dr. Jill Omori receives Leadership award. HAH photo.

Dr. Daniel Cheng, UH Assistant Clinical Professor, The Queen’s Medical Center
2018 Physician of the Year

Also dedicated to ensuring quality care for the underserved and underinsured populations is Dr. Daniel Cheng, JABSOM MD 2009, who established and leads, the Queen’s Care Coalition (QCC) at the Queen’s Medical Center. QCC takes a holistic and comprehensive approach to address the complex needs of the homeless population by combining both medical and outreach services to provide patient care rather than just treating their immediate, physical needs.

Upon returning home to Hawaiʻi in 2014 after completing his residency in Emergency Medicine in Los Angeles, Dr. Cheng was stunned to find out that Hawaiʻi had the highest per capita of homelessness in the nation. Although Hawaiʻi’s homeless population decreased across all islands in 2018, the state still had the nation’s highest rate of homelessness this year, according to federal statistics.

In an interview with ThinkTech Hawaiʻi, Dr. Cheng compares the Dr. Cheng told ThinkTech Hawaii that individuals have come through the emergency room with not only medical disease but “clearly much more significant social issues that need to be addressed.”

At QCC, Dr. Cheng leads an interdisciplinary team that includes social workers and case managers facilitate the right connections with supportive community resources, thus allowing their patients to receive care in all areas needed in addition to immediate medical attention.

Dr. Daniel Cheng receives “Physician of the Year” award. HAH photo.

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