Honolulu Star-Bulletin Local News

Dr. Calvin C.J. Sia checks grandaughter Whitney Sia in
the Kapiolani Medical Center as mom Lea holds her.

Photo by Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin

The godfather and
the grandfather

Two doctors will be honored for
their contributions to medicine in Hawaii

Dr. Calvin C.J. Sia is known as
‘the godfather of Hawaii’s children’

By Helen Altonn

As a kid growing up his first 12 years in China, he saw poverty, devastation, bodies floating in rivers and his father saving lives with an iron lung.

"The imprints were significant," said Dr. Calvin C.J. Sia, a 69-year-old pediatrician who has pioneered for nearly 40 years to turn those imprints into healthier lives for children and families. Known as "the godfather of Hawaii's children," he co-founded the Hawaii Family Stress Center, Hawaii Healthy Start, the Medical Home concept, Zero to Three program and Healthy and Ready to Learn Center. He also created the Variety School for learning disabled children.

More than 40 states have emergency medical services for children because of a bill Sia wrote and "politicked" with the American Academy of Pediatrics and Sen. Daniel Inouye to push through Congress.

Sia is chairman of the Advisory Commission on Childhood Vaccine for Health and Human Services, among many other leadership positions. He recently received the Jonas Salk Memorial Award for Achievement in Maternal and Child Health.

All of Sia's accomplishments have been through volunteer work - outside the pediatric practice he conducted until Aug. 31.

"The beauty is now I can focus my energies and really start getting out in the community more than when I had to see patients," he said. "This is the most challenging and probably the most exciting time of my life."

He has embarked on a Carnegie Foundation mission to create an integrated family health care system, which he feels may be his best achievement.

Lorraine Yuen, Sia's pediatric nurse from Feb. 1959 until his office closed, said he's a good organizer. And with nurse Alice Char and herself helping with his huge practice, she said, "He was just able to divide himself up in little pieces wherever he was needed.

"He really is a gem," she said, noting she never saw him angry. "The most he does is, he has a big smile on his face, he pounds on the table and says, 'I'm so mad.'"

Patients kept returning, she said, because "he has this magnetism. Somehow people just believe all he has to do is touch their child and the child will get well."

Sia's grandparents came here in the 1890s as the first married couple practicing medicine.

"Talk about women's lib," Sia said. "She practiced as Dr. T.H Kong and he was Dr. K.F. Li." His mother, author of the "Mary Sia Chinese Cookbook," met his father, Richard, when he was at the Rockefeller Institute. They went to Peking in the 1920s when the institute founded the Peking Medical Union College.

Sia said his model was his father, a soft-spoken scientist and teacher specializing in infectious diseases. He had one of two iron lungs in China, using it for opium-smokers who suffered lung paralysis. He once saved the life of an American's son after diagnosing polio and putting him in the iron lung, Sia said.

In 1939, Sia said, his father sacrificed his career to come here to give him and his sisters, Sylvia and Julia, a new life in America.

At Punahou, Sia won the first of many awards - American Legion Boy of the Year for sports and academics and popularity.

After Army service, Sia attended Dartmouth College on the G.I. Bill and met his wife and strongest supporter, Katherine, on a blind date. She was attending a junior college. They married over the protests of her Hong Kong family, and she helped put him through medical school, he said. They have three sons.

Sia, his father and son Michael received medical degrees from Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Sia's mentor was Dr. Fred Robbins, Nobel Prize laureate in medicine for his polio work.

Sia planned to work with Robbins after his residency at Children's Hospital but said his grant didn't come through. So he started a pediatric practice, stressing "well care" and answering parents' questions during a "welcome calls" period every morning at his home.

Moving into key positions at Kapiolani and Children's Hospitals, he led efforts to obtain a neonatal intensive care unit and pediatric pulmonary center and was involved in merging Children's Hospital with Kapiolani.

He pushed for a school health system requiring preschool immunizations and tackled turf problems to fight child abuse and neglect.

"I found it frustrating," he said. "So by the 1980s I said we had to do something different. That's when I latched onto prevention and early intervention, prenatal through (age) 5, because that's the area that's probably still the most fertile to bridge interprofessionally."

While he always wanted to be a doctor, he almost didn't become one. He was accepted at Harvard Business School before his medical application was approved, he said.

"It would have been faster and money would have been easier, but I've always enjoyed working with people," he said.

"The exciting part is ... one pediatrician can affect the lives of many."

Dr. Colin McCorriston conducts a six-month
post-partum examination on Arleen Boner and daughter Sarah.

Photo by Dean Sensui, Star-Bulletin

Hawaii’s ‘grandfather of obstetrics’
has delivered more than
10,000 babies

By Helen Altonn

His wife always wonders why it takes him so long to go to the grocery store, the 81-year-old man notes with twinkling eyes.

"I spend 50 percent of my time shopping and 50 percent yakking with old patients," Dr. Colin Craig McCorriston confessed.

After delivering more than 10,000 babies, it's inevitable that Hawaii's "grandfather of obstetrics" would run into someone he knows.

Many "Colins" were named for McCorriston, who has delivered three generations of babies in some families. One mother named her twins Colin and Craig.

"It's flattering," said the doctor, who stopped delivering babies about 10 years ago and has concentrated on delivering medical students attuned to patients' needs.

Besides knowing a patient's medical history, he says an obstetrician-gynecologist "must have sensitivity" to help those with problems - such as a teen-ager with poor support or an abused woman.

"Colin is not only an OB/GYN, he's a complete physician," says one of his former students, Dr. Ralph Hale, executive director of the American College of OB/GYN and the U.S. Olympic Committee vice president.

"He's the type of physician all of us strive to emulate," said Hale, former chairman of the University of Hawaii's OB/GYN Department, describing McCorriston's understanding of patients' needs.

Hale became McCorriston's assistant, then partner, at Straub Hospital. And when Hale was at UH and McCorriston retired from Straub, Hale recruited the senior physician to teach.

McCorriston, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, meets with students and residents four mornings a week at the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children.

"I enjoy the kids," he says. He gives them material to study and expects them to be able to discuss it, saying he doesn't let them get away "without a pounding."

He describes a woman's symptoms, for example, and asks what drug the student would give her.

"You just killed her," he says. "You forgot to ask if she is allergic to anything."

McCorriston, born in Honolulu, said his great-grandparents stayed here in 1850 after a rough voyage from Australia en route to the California Gold Rush. His mother's family came from Canada.

He went to Punahou, Stanford University and Harvard Medical School. He met his wife in Boston. They have five children and 13 grandchildren.

McCorriston started out to be a general surgeon, noting there was no formal obstetrics training in those days. He learned by working with outstanding obstetricians at Boston City Hospital and Straub Hospital during summers, he said.

Completing his residency in Boston, he returned here in 1942 and worked for a year at Straub and Kapiolani hospitals, waiting to get into the Navy.

Leaving the service in 1946, he went back to Straub and was there 41 years. He also has worked at Kapiolani since 1942.

He notes some big changes in his field - more women doctors, better anesthesia, development of antibiotics, better labs and understanding of physiology.

He remembers people dying with complications from "kitchen table abortions," with no antibiotics to fight infections.

The first sulfa drug came out during his first year as a surgical intern, he said.

"We just couldn't believe how good it was."

Advanced technology and early detection and treatment have reduced pregnancy problems, cervical cancer and deaths from breast cancer, he said. Women who smoke are dying more of lung cancer than breast cancer, he said.

"If we could just get kids to stop smoking. Most are teen-age girls."

Getting women to seek prenatal care also is a big concern, he said.

"The biggest problem is with the Polynesian group: 'I'm not bleeding. I'm not hurting. I'm OK.' I wish older kupunas would get after them."

McCorriston cites dramatic changes in medical practice and education because of managed care. As primary care doctors, obstetricians and gynecologists are required to deal with sore throats, headaches, sprained ankles and "all kinds of things we weren't really taking care of before," he said.

"Unfortunately, HMOs (health maintenance organizations) look to nothing but the bottom line, black and white and dollars, and they're not looking at quality care. There is more and more paperwork. It takes away from patient care."

Tall and fit, McCorriston said he's taken off 20 pounds since open heart surgery in April. He often walks to work from his lower Manoa home.

"The way to keep going is to keep using your brain and exercise," he said.

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