Grateful JABSOM Alums Celebrate, Give Back, with Kūlike Kākou Gala

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gov green, first lady, president lassner, with dr. tom, morita, and sons

Dr. Jaimie Tom and Dr. Shane Morita met at the University of Hawaiʻi John A. Burns School of Medicine more than twenty-five years ago.

Dr. Tom is an Emergency Medicine physician at Kapiʻolani Medical Center for Women & Children and Pali Momi Medical Center, as well as Associate Director of Admissions for the John A. Burns School of Medicine. At the same time, Dr. Morita is now The Queen's Medical Center's Vice Chief of Staff and Medical Director of Surgical Oncology, as well as Associate Professor of Surgery for the John A. Burns School of Medicine. Both are grateful that their JABSOM experience led them to these points in their careers and to each other.

"We began our journey together at JABSOM when the medical school was still on the Mānoa campus. This past year, we celebrated our 25th anniversary, both medical school graduation and marriage, so we wanted to do something fun," the couple said.  

The idea initially began as a Silver anniversary class reunion but blossomed into the Kūlike Kākou (which means "stand together") Gala. In one evening, the JABSOM couple found a way to give back to their alma mater, honor the outgoing University of Hawaiʻi President, and provide a night for their colleagues and friends in both the healthcare and non-healthcare sectors to engage in fellowship, especially in these challenging times.

Proceeds from the evening went to JABSOM's Rural and Neighbor Island Medical Education fund, which promotes the Medical School's presence on the neighbor islands and in rural areas on Oʻahu. 

"We understand the importance of community and supporting our youth as they begin their voyage, with the hope that they will embrace the unique culture of Hawaiʻi, return home, and perpetuate the legacy of the Hawaiian Islands," the couple said. Dr. Morita recalls, "I remember my dad wiring homes for free and my mom helping new church members fill out social security forms." I wanted to come back and make a difference like they did.

"We have all been affected by the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, the aftermath of community and personal tragedies, and the overall challenges of life. We recognize that burnout and weariness affect us all, no matter what industry we work in, so we wanted to go 'old school,'" Dr. Tom said. Despite the numerous advances in modern healthcare, we all know that laughter is still the best medicine." 

tumua performs

Hosted at the Kahala Hotel & Resort, Kūlike Kākou was an unforgettable night of laughs and camaraderie as arguably the hottest comedian in Hawaiʻi, Tumua Tuinei, headlined the sold-out event. Kūlike Kākou also featured performances by Nā Hōkū Hanohano award-winning singer Kamakakēhau Fernandez.

Tumua, a University of Hawaiʻi graduate, brought a full dose of laughter to the more than 400 people who attended the gala.

"Everyone needs laughter in their life, and when you can laugh and forget about the crazy things that are happening in the world, it's almost like you can escape reality," Tumua said. "That was my main goal. It was to make sure everyone forgot about everything they went through and came together to laugh." 

dr tom, president lassner,interim dean buenconsejo lum

Before the laughs began, Drs. Tom and Morita, along with JABSOM's Interim Dean Lee Buenconsejo-Lum, MD, honored University of Hawaiʻi President David Lassner with a custom-made steersman paddle donated by Daryl Whitfield on behalf of Dr. Morita. Lassner will retire this year, and the paddle, fused with the exotic woods of koa, monkey pod, mango, wenge, and curly maple tip, represented how Lassner deftly guided the ten campuses of the University of Hawaiʻi over the last decade. 

"We want to celebrate all that he does to make this truly one state," Dr. Tom said. "He's given students who otherwise may not have opportunities for higher education a chance to have that opportunity; so we appreciate that." 

Reflecting on the decades of service he's given to the University, President Lassner said, "It's been amazing. UH is the only place I've ever had a grown-up job in my life. I've worked here my entire career, and the opportunity to give back as President, while unexpected, is just the honor of a lifetime."

Gov. Josh Green, MD, also paid tribute to Lassner at the gala by delivering a proclamation in his name. 

"He's brought so much attention to UH," Green said. We have many more resources coming in for grants and research programs than anyone's even aware of. He is actually very modest, so it's great to celebrate him because he has made UH very successful over these last ten years."

In a true showing of the Aloha spirit, Kūlike Kākou brought people from all communities together for the common cause of supporting rural and neighbor island health. 

North Shore's Kelly Slater and Tua Tagovailoa donated signed memorabilia. Neighbor island luxury resorts Four Seasons Maui at Wailea, Four Seasons Hualalai, and Mauna Lani Auberge Resort also made significant donations. 

Tumua grew up in rural areas of Oʻahu. Fernandez was raised on Maui, and the evening's mistress of ceremonies, Yunji de Nies, spent her childhood on the Kona side of Hawaiʻi Island. Dr. Morita grew up in Waiākea, and Dr. Tom was raised in Kahaluʻu. Gov. Green, who practiced in Kaʻu, knows the importance of rural health. 

"We have fewer physicians and few providers in general on the neighbor islands, so JABSOM does a great thing by not only growing our physician base but also finding resources so we can get healthcare out there," Green said. "Tonight, it's a who's who of healthcare delivery, and Shane and Jaimie brought us all together. We're about twice as short on the neighbor islands for providers as we are on Oʻahu, so it's a special night." 

For a couple who initially envisioned a simple class reunion, the Kūlike Kākou Gala raised approximately a quarter of a million dollars, and all net proceeds will benefit the Rural and Neighbor Island Medical Education fund. 

the morita familly at dusk on the beach

"25 years ago, we would never have thought we would be able to give back to our school in this way. Not only did we receive excellent medical training at JABSOM, but we also gained a lifetime partner, three wonderful children (Josiah, Elijah, & Zechariah), and the privilege of returning home to care for our community. For these opportunities, we are forever grateful to the medical school, our parents, our families, and those who embody the essence of the Aloha spirit, who stepped in to help us whenever we needed it.”

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Kūlike Kākou 2024

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