Richard Kekuni Blaisdell, MD, founding chair of the Department of Medicine at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, was revered as a kauka, or healer, in our State’s Native Hawaiian community, and as a tireless advocate for learning and increased opportunities for Hawaiʻi citizens.
In 1983, Dr. Blaisdell helped author a groundbreaking paper that called attention to declining health among Native Hawaiians in their native land. His scholarship and leadership eventually led to legislation and considerable funding from the U.S. Congress for programs that directly impact the health of Native Hawaiians.
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 effects of radiation on people exposed to the atomic bombs exploded in those cities.
While in Japan, he adopted a war orphan who was almost two 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 Waimalalo 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 Hawaiʻi. He served as chairman and professor of medicine, and then upon his retirement in 2010, he served as professor emeritus until his death.
In May of 2014, Native Hawaiian faculty from various parts of the University of Hawaiʻi 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 Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.
The celebration, during the 2014 Advanced Degrees Commencement Ceremony at the Stan Sheriff Center, honored Dr. Blaisdell for his contributions to the University of Hawaiʻi medical school, hundreds of Native Hawaiian physicians, and service to the United States.
In 1966, Dr. Blaisdell was the first chair of the JABSOM Department of Medicine, and he is considered a treasure to every class that has ever graduated from our medical school.
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