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Cardiac pioneer was on the scene of every heart attack in Juneau for 14 years

Henry I. Akiyama ’53

A picture of Henry Akiyama

Henry I. Akiyama ’53, April 9, 2010, in Juneau, Alaska, from lymphoma. Hank grew up in Hood River, the youngest of five children in a family that cultivated fruit orchards and vegetables, and survived the lean years of the Great Depression with their industry. At the age of 14, he and his family were forced to leave their home and were interned at Pinedale, Tule Lake, and Minidoka camps, where they remained for three years. While in camp, Hank completed high school in three years and graduated as valedictorian. Following his return to Hood River, he was confronted by blatant racial intolerance toward Japanese Americans and chose to enlist in the U.S. Army in order to demonstrate his patriotism. He served in Italy with the all-Nisei 442nd Infantry—the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of American warfare—and enrolled at Reed on the GI Bill.

Hank inteded to major in social science, but was influenced by his academic adviser to consider a career in medicine and earned a BA from Reed in biology. At Reed, he  met Grace Ebihara ’50; they married in 1952. Hank received an MD from the University of Oregon Medical School five years later, and completed a residency at St. Vincent Hospital in Portland, where he established a coronary care unit. In 1961, he was recruited to Alaska by the Juneau Medical Clinic, and five years later, he opened his own specialty practice in cardiology. He established a coronary care unit at Bartlett Memorial Hospital, trained care-unit nurses, created the city's mobile coronary care unit, and developed a heart-related teaching program. From his public obituary, we learned that he was at the scene of every cardiac arrest that occurred in Juneau in 1969-82.

His family noted: “Providing humanitarian service was his love and his mission. He dedicated his life to his patients and community.” Hank was appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health, was elected an American College Cardiology Fellow in 1973, and was Juneau Citizen of the Year in 1976. In 2004, he retired from medicine, and turned his energy toward gardening, hiking, boating, fishing, hunting, and following his favorite sport teams. Survivors include son Alan K. Akiyama ’82 and daughter Lisa, two grandsons, four great-grandchildren, and his sister and three brothers. Grace died in 1996.

Update:

In a ceremony in July 2010, Bartlett Regional Hospital's critical care unit was formally named the Grace T. and Henry I. Akiyama, M.D., Critical Care Unit.

Appeared in Reed magazine: September 2010

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