UH Med Now
VIDEO: Remembering the lasting legacy for Native Hawaiian Health left by Richard Kekuni Akana Blaisdell, MD, March 11, 1925 – February 12, 2016
Richard Kekuni Blaisdell, Founding Chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of Hawaii School of Medicine, died of respiratory failure this morning at The Queen’s Medical Center. Surrounded by immediate family, Blaisdell passed with peace and dignity. He was 90 years old.
An extraordinary commitment to the people of Hawaii
A 1942 graduate of Kamehameha Schools, Dr. 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 a little over one years old.
“I was single when I met little Mitsunori,” said Dr. 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 Waimanalo girl. “We were married and Mitsunori, we called him Mitch, was best man at our wedding.”
In 1966, Dr. 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 Hawaii. He served as Chair until 1969, and as Professor of Medicine until he retired in 2010. Upon his retirement, he served as Professor Emeritus until his death this morning.
In May of 2014, Native Hawaiian faculty from various parts of the University of Hawaii joined their voices in a special *oli, or chant, to salute Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell, as he was presented an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
The celebration, during the 2014 Advanced Degrees Commencement Ceremony at the Stan Sheriff Center, honored Dr. Blaisdell for his contributions to the University of Hawaii medical school, hundreds of Native Hawaiian physicians, and service to the United States.
Dr. Blaisdell is survived by son, Mitch, daughter, Dr. Nalani Blaisdell-Brennan, and Grandchildren: Melissa Blaisdell, Billy Brennan, Malia Brennan and Jacob Blaisdell.
*The full oli text, in English and in Native Hawaiian.
A torch burning like no other
A tree (also reference to medicine)…
A tree (Dr.) that stands like no other
An expert (especially warrior)…
 Lama is a type of wood used to build the enclosures of ancient schools of knowledge. In fact, Kapālama means lama enclosure. Also, lama wood was used in medicine and placed in hula altars because its name suggested enlightenment.
 Kilolani here refers to Kilolani Mitchell who was the Kamehameha teacher that inspired Kekuni. Kilolani means “soothsayer who predicts the future by observing the sky.”
 This part of the oli symbolizes his development as a physician and healer.
 This phrase refers to the many experts (Lehua) who Kekuni has mentored over the years, both in medicine and in the Hawaiian sovereignty movement.
 This phrase speaks to his concerns of the common kānaka and his humility. The waokanaka is the uplands were humans dwell. It is also the name of the area where Kekuni resides.
In the Hawaiian Language:
He Lama hō‘ā ho‘okahi
I Kapālama, mai Kilolani
He kilohana ka ‘ike ‘ia ‘ana
O ka Lama kū o ka loea
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