UH Med Now
Amidst venturing into war zone in Ukraine, JABSOM MD 1990 alum finds peace in his faith
Date: September 15th, 2022 in Alumni News, Faculty, JABSOM News, Surgery, UH Manoa
“Two weeks into our mission, our city was hit by Russian cruise missiles.”
JABSOM Assistant Professor of Surgery Dr. Andy Oishi (JABSOM MD 1990) thrives under intense pressure.
In his 26-year career as a physician at Kuakini Medical Center and Queen’s Medical Center, he’s known to take his gift of healing to war-torn countries and areas impacted by disaster. He administered surgical care in the Battle of Mosul in Iraq in 2017 and treated patients when Haiti was struck by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in 2021.
These missions were organized by Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian organization that provides humanitarian aid to hurting people around the world. Oishi is part of the organization’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), which can respond quickly to crises, aiding victims of war, natural disasters, disease, and famine.
This time, Oishi’s latest assignment was providing medical aid to those affected by the war in Ukraine. This would require Oishi to be deployed for a month. With the blessing from his colleagues at Kuakini, his department chair, Dr. Kenric Murayama (JABSOM MD 1985), and his employer, The Queen’s Health System, Oishi went off to Ukraine.
Since commercial air in Ukraine was restricted, Oishi embarked on 22 hours of air travel to Poland followed by an 18-hour bus ride from Krakow, Poland to Kyiv, Ukraine. It took another six hours to get to his primary assignment, a city in the eastern half of the country.
During his bus ride, however, Oishi faced yet another obstacle.
“It was fifteen hours into the bus ride that I was starting to get that sick COVID feeling,” Oishi recalled. “That was the big challenge in the beginning, but thankfully it didn’t spread to any of my colleagues, which was a blessing from God. My first five days in Ukraine were hard because I was in COVID isolation and trying to work, but I was in a foreign country. I didn’t know the language and I couldn’t get a translator because I was considered infectious.”
Once he got out of COVID isolation, Oishi was ready to get to work, but soon realized the mission had changed. Oishi says that because of the Ukrainians’ resilience and their ability to hold off the Russians’ advance into the central part of the country, the leaders of his mission pivoted his role to distribute medical supplies instead.
“It was kind of an interesting experience because in previous DARTs, I had deployed to do trauma surgery or acute medical care,” Oishi said. “But the war in Ukraine transitioned quickly. [The Ukranians] actually put [up] a big fight and pushed Russia out of the central part of the country and Ukraine became quite stable very quickly, except for the eastern and southern areas where Russia had occupied. There was a huge need for supplies for all the medical facilities in the occupied zones.”
By the time Oishi left Ukraine, Samaritan’s Purse had distributed 200 metric tons of medical supplies. Though Oishi had no knowledge of the Ukrainian language, there were translators who were able to communicate with the local community they were engaging with.
To accomplish his work, Oishi had to develop skills that he normally doesn’t use in his practice: contacting hospital administrators, writing up hospital contracts, organizing and then delivering supplies to those hospitals. All of these transactions were carried out in the Ukrainian language.
Samaritan’s Purse housed all of the medical supplies and resources in an unmarked warehouse in the eastern part of the country. From there, supplies were distributed to Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.
Meanwhile, back in Hawaii, Oishi’s wife, Dr. Laurie Tam (JABSOM MD 1990), received this text from her husband: “Missiles hit the city where we are. We are hiding in a basement.” They later discovered that at least three people were killed and 15 were injured in the attack.
Tam said, “I waited for a while, then a few hours later, I texted him, ‘Are you okay?’ My friends and family hoped that the reason he was not replying was because he was down in a basement with no wi-fi. And then it became hours where I didn’t hear from him. But guess what happened?”
Oishi later responded that he had fallen asleep in the basement, something they can now look back on and laugh about. He added that his team had spent their time in the basement having deep conversations and building camaraderie.
“For me, the missiles and the bombs were never the biggest concern,” said Oishi, who had prepared for the worst and thought of a game plan with his wife before proceeding with the mission. “The biggest concern was not being able to complete the tasks that I was assigned to.”
Despite all of the challenges they faced throughout this experience, the couple found peace in their faith in God during this time apart.
“This is not my first time [going on these missions,] but the peace comes from knowing that someone is in control,” Oishi said. “For us, it’s God . . . There are things that God calls us to personally build our faith. When you’re away from home and stressed, and you don’t have your usual things that bring you comfort, you find out God is a great comfort during those times.”
Tam added, “No matter what happens, we might be totally surprised. But God is not surprised. God is gonna work everything out.”
Oishi and Tam encourage their students and residents to use the medical knowledge and skills they learn at JABSOM and find ways to make a difference both here and in other parts of the world.
“We live in the safest, richest country in the world,” Oishi said. “We think this is how life is, but it’s not really like this in most of the world. Life can be very difficult in those places. As Christians, I think God calls us to be a part of that, to enter into those things. In an unusual way, it’s just a joyful experience to be part of somebody else’s journey in these things and to do what little we can to help. Personally, I don’t think what I did was huge, yet God uses those kinds of things. We have all these opportunities to serve and grow our faith, and this was definitely an opportunity where our faith grew.”
By Vina Cristobal, JABSOM Communications Coordinator