$3.76M Gift Establishes JABSOM’S 1st Fellowship to Tackle Liver Disease

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A $3.76 million gift from John C. Couch will establish the first-ever gastroenterology and hepatology fellowship program at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) that will train physicians to treat liver diseases, including cancer, in the islands.

The gift creates the John C. Couch Fund for Hepatology and the John C. Couch Endowed Chair in Hepatology.

The first of its kind in Hawai‘i, the new program will leverage partnerships with health systems that provide JABSOM’s clinical learning environment, including the Queen’s Medical Center, which currently has the only transplant program in the state. The program will unite specialists from diverse disciplines, and create a framework to tackle liver disease and directly improve the quality of life for local patients.

Hawaiʻi has the second-highest incidence of the most common form of liver cancer in the U.S. but has a chronic shortage of locally based hepatologists and healthcare providers who have the expertise to help prevent and treat liver disease.

Hawai‘i’s higher propensity for liver disease is forecast to become even more pervasive in the years ahead because of the high numbers of adults, especially those among Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations, who have diabetes or pre-diabetes that can cause fatty liver disease, a leading cause of liver failure and cancer.

“This generous gift will allow us to develop and grow a program to train hepatologists in Hawaiʻi for Hawaiʻi patients,” said Dr. Lee Buenconsejo-Lum, JABSOM’s interim dean. “The need to proactively create a pipeline of local hepatology specialists is urgent as the rate of liver disease in our population is forecast to rise. This gift will allow us to get started on that now.”

In order to have a liver transplant, and a path to quality of life and survival, some Hawai‘i residents must travel to the continental US where there are more treatment centers. For those without the means to travel for the transplant and post-transplant care needed, the options are extremely limited.

“There is a higher likelihood that hepatologists trained here in the islands will make a commitment to practice in our local communities,” said Dr. Scott Kuwada, chair and professor of medicine and chief of gastroenterology at Queen’s. “This will allow us to build partnerships and make it more common in the future for patients to receive the care they need in Hawaiʻi instead of having to travel to the continental US.”

Couch is a liver cancer survivor who underwent a successful liver transplant in 1999. He spent 22 years working in Hawaiʻi most recently as the former Chairman, President and CEO of Alexander & Baldwin Inc., and prior to that was President of Matson Navigation Co. After retiring from A&B in late 1999, Couch joined C.M. Capital Corporation in Palo Alto, California, in 2000 and served as its President and CEO. He is currently C.M. Capital’s Vice Chairman.

“As a former Hawaii resident for many years, and the beneficiary of advances in the treatment of liver disease, I understand the incredible promise of continuing improvements in the field and am delighted to support JABSOM in providing the best medical training, as well as resources, to deal with the related challenges in the Islands,” said John C. Couch in providing this gift.

“We’re grateful for John’s incredible generosity for this gift that will touch, and save, the lives of people going through the same health issues he battled,” said Tim Dolan, UH vice president of advancement and CEO of the University of Hawaiʻi Foundation. “His foresight gives UH the tools to build a strong program that will allow liver patients to get the care they need here at home.”

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