DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Dr. Richard Mamiya will be honored with the HHSAA Foundation Hawaii High School Award Of Achievement tonight.
At the heart of Hawaii sports history
After a stellar playing career, Richard Mamiya made his mark as a surgeon
RICHARD Mamiya is proof you don't have to always go by the book, even if you helped write it.
"I had a pocket knife that I opened maybe a hundred chests with (in emergencies)," said Mamiya, a trailblazing and prolific heart surgeon, considered among the best in the world. "Before we used to have open massage. Now they just do CPR. That's how things changed."
Dr. Richard Mamiya
Born: March 8, 1925, in Honolulu.
Family: Wife Hazel (deceased), three sons and five daughters, seven grandchildren.
Education: Three-sport captain and student body president at Saint Louis School. Bachelor's degree from University of Hawaii. Medical degree from St. Louis University.
Military service: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Medical specialties: Cardiac and thoracic surgery.
Notable: Helped design and taught at UH medical school. Served as UH athletics faculty representative. Charter inductee of UH athletic Circle of Honor. Named to NCAA all-time college football all-academic team.
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl/HHSAA Foundation Athletic Awards Dinner
Where: Sheraton Waikiki
When: Tonight, reception at 5:30 p.m., dinner to follow (attendees are urged to arrive early due to parade in Waikiki).
HHSAA Foundation Hall of Fame inductees: Jim Alegre, David Ishii, Cal Lee, Dr. Richard Mamiya.
Nissan Hall of Honor inductees: Camilla Ah-Hoy, Okesene Ale, Jr., Kenny Estes, Lauren Ho, Jeremy Kamaka'ala, Brandon Low, Careena Onosai, Tye Perdido, Kealoha Pilares, Dylan Rush, Kawika Shoji, Gerritt Vincent.
Keynote speaker: Bill Walsh.
Mamiya used the more conventional scalpel for the other 30,000 operations in his long career that ended 11 years ago with his retirement.
His time as one of Hawaii's most outstanding high school athletes concluded long before, during World War II. He captained the football, basketball and baseball teams at Saint Louis School. Mamiya then played quarterback in football and guard in basketball at the University of Hawaii in the late 1940s.
Mamiya, 81, is among a group of legends being honored tonight by the Hawaii High School Athletic Association with induction into its hall of fame. The others in the hall's second class are golf champion David Ishii from Kauai, star Kalani linebacker Cal Lee, who went on to coach a football dynasty at Saint Louis, and the late Jim Alegre, a Honokaa graduate who became the state's winningest high school basketball coach.
Also, at the same banquet at the Sheraton Waikiki, the Nissan Hall of Honor inducts its new class of 12 outstanding athletes who just completed their high school careers.
Mamiya still goes to work at Queen's each day, where he also funds and maintains a research archive. Fitting his humble image, his office is noticeably bereft of an ego wall despite stardom in sports and superstardom in medicine.
Mamiya performed the first bypass heart surgery in Hawaii in 1970, and became a trendsetter in multiple bypass operations. He improved standard medical practice along the way.
"Seventy percent blockage was indication for surgery. Other places with lesser blockage, it doesn't really affect blood flow, but I was interested in controlling the disease there and not having to operate again. I took the position, 'Why not bypass all of them?' I had to prove I could do it without adding any risk," Mamiya said.
Mamiya averaged twice as many bypasses per surgery with less than half the mortality rate of the national averages.
"So I proved my point," he said. "I can do that."
Mamiya was featured in a 1977 Time Magazine article.
"Success depends heavily on the surgeon's skill. Of the many bypass teams at work, few if any can match the record of the groups at Honolulu's Queen's and Straub hospital," Time reported. " ... Dr. Richard Mamiya has performed 350 consecutive operations without a single fatality, at times installing as many as eight or nine grafts."
Growing up in Kalihi and Palama during the depression, Mamiya never thought about becoming a doctor. It was more about making it from one day to the next.
"It was rough, and my parents got divorced when I was young," he said.
He found solace on the playing fields and in the classroom. He earned athletic scholarships to Saint Louis and then UH, and made the most of them.
Mamiya was only 5-feet-8 and around 160 pounds, but he played blocking back in high school for Herman Wedemeyer -- one of the best running backs in Hawaii history.
"When he told me that story about being a blocker, I thought, 'My goodness, those valuable surgeon's hands could've been ruined," said Walter Dods, Mamiya's longtime friend.
When he got to Manoa, he competed with Sol Kaulukukui at quarterback.
"He was the starter, but we sort of split the job," Mamiya said.
COURTESY OF DR. RICHARD MAMIYA
Richard Mamiya competed with Sol Kaulukukui at the quarterback spot for the Rainbows.
In 1948, Mamiya led UH to a 55-0 victory at Redlands. He set a school record with 302 passing yards. The mark stood until 1984 when it was broken by Raphel Cherry.
"Dick was a very talented athlete and a very warm person," Kaulukukui said. "We were friends and supported each other. I'm very proud of him."
UH -- an independent playing a mixed schedule of college, military and high school alumni teams -- went 29-14 in the four years with Mamiya and Kaulukukui on the squad.
But Mamiya said his most memorable athletic moments came on the basketball court.
"We got to play St. John's at Madison Square Garden. We didn't do very well, but the next year (1948) we won at Seattle University," Mamiya said.
It was a 47-34 victory that might not have happened with today's rules.
"We stalled the last 5 minutes," Mamiya said with a laugh. "There was no shot clock. Bobby Kau was the best dribbler. He'd dribble, and when he got tired, he'd give me the ball. I'd dribble a little bit and give it back to him."
The Rainbows didn't mind the booing of the home crowd.
"We didn't care. We were there to win the game."
For those who romanticize college sports of his era, Mamiya said this: "It was the same."
"But there's some virtue in it. You have guys that are there to play sports. But they have to do some scholastic work, and that exposure to education helps them."
Mamiya took a zoology class in which he dissected a small shark. His professor was so impressed by the job he did that he suggested Mamiya work toward becoming a surgeon.
He went to medical school at St. Louis University, began his professional career on the mainland, started a family, and soon returned to Hawaii.
Mamiya developed techniques to shorten operations, and he once did seven open-heart surgeries in one day, going from one hospital on Oahu to the next. A typical day was at least three operations.
"You can be innovative, but you have to prove you can do it without adding risk to the patient," he said. "In that way it's not like sports, it's not a game."
But Mamiya did learn a lot from sports that transferred into his career.
"Playing sports was very important in my development. You gotta gut it out, you gotta play hurt. And you gotta learn how to lose. You cannot be a sore loser, you have to learn from it," he said.
And for doctors, losses mean lost lives.
"Not too many, but you're bound to lose them. It's the nature of it," he said.
But for every death, there are dozens of people who are still alive because of Mamiya.
"I know he saved my life," said former Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi, now 85, whom Mamiya did a quintuple bypass on in 1988. "The operation was pretty good. I still get around."
So does Mamiya, who plays golf three times a week.
He enjoys it, but ...
"I miss my work."
He follows the lives of his patients, like the boy who was supposed to die because his heart was backward, but now he's 30 years old and can bench press 300 pounds. Or the 9-year-old girl whose heart had just three chambers and nearly died, but walked out of the hospital and eventually had a family of her own. Or the little boy he operated on who went on to become an Olympic and pro athlete.
They all remember him, of course. But as time goes by, some people only know his name because of Mamiya Theater at Saint Louis, or others of his many philanthropic projects.
"I wanted them to name the locker room after me, but they decided on the theater," Mamiya said. "If you want publicity, that's a great, great thing."
And Richard Mamiya -- a humble man who doesn't seek attention -- laughed. He's grateful his life has been one great, great thing after another.