Chapters of Hawaii’s Medical Past

By Dr. Benjamin Young
Interviewed by Melissa Moniz
Wednesday - June 24, 2009
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Dr. Benjamin Young

Interviewed By Melissa Moniz

Where did you receive your schooling and training?

I went to Roosevelt. From there, I spent two years at Kentucky Christian University, then two years at Milligan, where I got my degree in English literature. Then I went to Pepperdine because I had no pre-med requirements. So I finished up my pre-med requirements at Pepperdine and then attended medical school at Howard in Washington, D.C. After I graduated from there, I came back home and did my psychiatric residency.

How long have you been practicing?

Actually, after I finished my residency I went back to medical school because I was asked to put together a program (Imi Ho’ala) to get more Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders into medical school, in 1972. So I did that, and really didn’t start practicing much until about 1977.

How did your passion and interest in Hawaii’s medical history begin?

Ozzie Bushnell is the most prolific writer about Hawaii’s medical history. He wrote many books, including Molokai, Ka’aawa, Return of Lono. He’s very well-known. It was in 1973 when he gave me call. I didn’t realize that I was the first of Hawaiian background to go into psychiatry. He called me and explained that I was one of the first Hawaiians to get into the administration of the medical school and he wanted to help my career. So that was one of the guys who helped me along because he’s so knowledgeable about Hawaii’s medical history. Then there’s another guy, Charlie Judd. His great-grandfather wrote Anatomia, which is the first medical textbook on anatomy written in Hawaiian. Charlie Judd was a professor of surgery at the medical school and he also knew a lot about Hawaii’s medical history. Finally was Kekuni Blaisdell. So it’s because of these three great mentors that I became interested in Hawaii’s medical history.

So now is most of your focus on expanding your knowledge of Hawaii’s medical history and writing your book about that subject?

I don’t practice much psychiatry anymore. Yeah, I retired from the medical school last year, too old. However, I still do a few evaluations for the state of Hawaii.

Dr. Young with one of his many rare pieces of Hawaii’s history

Where are you with your book?

Still struggling. It’s going to take me a long time. I have 24 chapters in it, beginning with the first physicians who came to these islands. Many times people don’t know who those first physicians were. Most people would guess it’s the missionary doctors, but it’s not. It’s the physicians who were ship surgeons on Cook’s ship. It’s very interesting because one cannot really pinpoint the source of infection coming from them, but most likely it did. There were two surgeons, William Anderson and David Samuel. Anderson was suffering from an advanced case of tuberculosis. He went on land and infected a lot of the people. Samuel eventually died of venereal disease. We don’t know if he had it when he went on shore, but we know he eventually died from it. There’s also a chapter on the history on John A. Burns Schools of Medicine and another on the history on hospitals here in Hawaii, the history of public health, the impact of women of Hawaii’s medical history.

This year The Queen’s Medical Center is celebrating its 150th anniversary and Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Can you talk about those hospitals and their history?

Kapiolani merged with Kauikeolani children’s hospital, which was founded by Albert Wilcox who wanted it named after his wife Emma Kauikeolani Wilcox. Her first marriage was to Samuel Mahelona, who was a judge. They had a son named Samuel Mahelona also, who died of tuberculosis. So then they founded the hospital on Kauai named after Emma’s son. Emma also had terrible experiences growing up: Five of her siblings died at a very early age. So with those experiences, they decided to start a hospital for children, and it was Kauikeolani Hospital on Kuakini Street. Then many years later Kauikeolani merged with Kapiolani. So this is the 100th year. And we all know the most famous person to be born there is Barack Obama.

In 1836 Queen Emma was born. In 1838 there was a missionary who happened to write in his journal sad and emotional words that, in 1838, there was hardly any child above the age of 2 who has not died. There were so many infant mortalities. Queen Emma was 2 when that was written. In fact, that’s how we get the baby luau. When a child survives to the first year of age then the chances are pretty good. So then, in 1855, her husband,

King Kamehameha IV, addressed the Legislature to start a hospital. It was approved, but no monies were made available. It wasn’t until 1859 that Queen’s hospital was started, and it’s because of the efforts of Queen Emma and King Kamehameha IV. Because they were upset that no monies were made available, they went to downtown Honolulu and collected money from businesses. So they collected more than $13,000, which was a huge sum in that day, which provided the foundation to start Queen’s hospital. It’s interesting that there was conflict when that was going on, because the religious influence in the kingdom said that Hawaiians were dying off because of their sins and didn’t deserve to live. Political point of view was that if you build a hospital there on Punchbowl, that it would lower the real estate value. But thank goodness for people like Queen Emma and King Kamehameha IV.

You spent several years trying to find the first Hawaiian who studied western medicine. Can you talk about who he was and his significance?

When I was asked to start the Imi Ho’ala program at UH, I asked the question, ‘So who was the first Hawaiian to study western medicine?’ Well, I thought I had found him. His name was Kaumu Hanchett. He graduated from Kamehameha Schools in 1908 and went Harvard for his undergraduate, then Harvard medical school and graduated with his degree. But come to find out that he’s the first Hawaiian to graduate from an American institution. Later I found an article in the Hawaii Historical Society about King Kalakaua’s program to send students abroad to study so we could develop leaders after he was gone. So it was Kalakaua’s Students Abroad Program. In reading that, I found out that he sent a young man to England to study medicine. His name was Matthew Makalua, and he received his medical degree from King’s College. So I started checking up on it and I was able to track down his family living in England.

So did he practice in England?

He practiced in England. He was supposed to come back, but the kingdom was being overthrown, and if he came back he would have been imprisoned because he was a royalist. So he decided not to come back.

You mentioned that one of the chapters in your book is about the impact of women. Can you talk briefly about that?

If you go back, one of the most significant acts was that by Kinau, a Kuhina Nui and also the mother-in-law of Queen Emma. She gave the order to board the ships that entered Honolulu Harbor to make sure there were no diseases on board. So if anyone was diseased, they had to be quarantined.

If you look at the progression of time, Queen Emma also had such an impact because of Queen’s hospital. But you also have someone like Pauahi Bishop. Everyone knows about her estate, Kamehameha Schools, but few realize that it’s because of Kamehameha Schools we have so many Hawaiians in medicine today. I don’t know the exact number, but because of her legacy, Kamehameha Schools has provided more Hawaiian students into medicine than another other high school in Hawaii. This is really a credit to Pauahi. What a significant impact to Hawaii’s medical history.

Can you talk about Kalaupapa and its significance in Hawaii’s medical history?

It was late 1830s and early 1840s that the first case of leprosy appeared here. Some say it was possibly Queen Emma’s father, George Naea, who was diagnosed with it. That’s why initially it was called ma’i ali’i, sickness of the ali’i. But Queen Emma’s cousin Peter Kaeo also was sent to Kalaupapa.

There’s a wonderful book out on letters that were exchanged between Queen Emma and Peter Kaeo called Letters from Molokai. It was in 1865 that King Kamehameha V signed into law the isolation of patients. In 1976, when I came home on Hokule’a, we landed there on Kalaupapa before coming home to Honolulu. So traditionally now, when Hokule’a comes back to Hawaiian waters, she always anchors there before coming back to Honolulu.

When we were anchored there in 1976, I thought, wow, what a great place to bring medical students to learn about the history of medicine, and learn about what the people went through.

And so I started taking medical students and hospital staff ever since. I’ve taken hundreds there over the years. Kalaupapa is a very special place because the illness was so devastating - more than 90 percent of the patients were Hawaiians, and because the culture of Hawaiians is to be very close, it was so hard to have a loved one taken away.


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