Dr. Richard Kekuni Blaisdell
The constant teacher, Dr. Richard Kekuni Blaisdell is a vessel of information and insightful knowledge. For more than 60 years, Blaisdell has immersed himself in the research of Native Hawaiian health and well-being, seeking to bring awareness of the certain plights and calamities of kanaka maoli to the community, and still works today to find the steps to reduce these adversities. Even after retiring as professor of medicine from John A. Burns School of Medicine in 2010, Blaisdell continues to be an integral part of studies for the UH-Manoa medical program. After Dr. Benjamin Young -a good friend of Blaisdell - helped create the Native Hawaiian Center of Excellence, Blaisdell was invited to participate in the study and research this federally funded program looked to achieve.
“The NHCE was created for disadvantaged minority students. As a result, we have more than 100 new medical graduates from Hawaiian ancestry. It is really quite an extraordinary program,” says Blaisdell, who was featured on MidWeek’s cover Oct. 26, 1988.
Sparked in the 1980s by student Mele Look’s discovery of a Native Hawaiian health epidemic, Blaisdell’s professional endeavors have included the creation of and involvement in programs and organizations that include Alu Like, E Ola Mau and Papa Ola Lokahi, as well as the congressional appointment of the 1988 Native Hawaiian Healthcare Improvement Act.
“After looking at mortality rates, we discovered that we native Hawaiians, kanaka maoli, have the highest and have had the highest in the state since data was first collected. It is a long, hard struggle, but that is where we are, and that’s where we have to work from,” Blaisdell adds.
For his continuous efforts, on April 7 Dr. Blaisdell will receive the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce’s prestigious ‘O’o award honoring significant contributions to improve our communities and the status of Native Hawaiians. “I am a bit surprised because I am not a businessman, but I am not about to argue with them. I am very eager to stand beside my buddy Dr. Benjamin Young because he is one of my heroes,” says Blaisdell.
Blaisdell is aware of his fortunate education and career. Given an opportunity to pursue a medical degree rather than join the war in 1941, Blaisdell, a Kamehameha Schools graduate, has taken full advantage of his potential and ability. “I am blessed to get the jobs I wanted to do - teaching and researching medicine in my homeland. It’s just another happy fairy-tale ending,” he concludes.
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