Roadside Medicine

A retired doctor brings medical care to Native Hawaiians


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On a typical weekday morning, Dr. Charman Akina will leave his 'Aiea Heights home just in time for rush-hour traffic, head over the H-3 and get to work. At 71, when most are enjoying retirement, Akina remains a throwback to another era, driving the distances of a country doctor and making free neighborhood calls.

With monies from the federal government, Akina screens residents in rural parts of O'ahu for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension with a two-van team of equipment and staff. He and his staff set up tents in Waimänalo neighborhoods, testing patients and giving consultations on a block-by-block basis. During the past four years, they have screened more than 4,000 residents. His mission: to help educate those with genetic predispositions to diabetes and heart disease.

"Hawaiians have had the worst health statistics," Akina says. "And I am half Hawaiian. So, first of all, I wanted to know if these stats are real, and they are. And secondly, can we make a difference?"

Dr. Charman Akina helps to root out diabetes and heart disease in Waima-nalo. Photo: Jimmy Forrest

Part of the education has been with what the gentle, soft-spoken doctor calls the three C's: cheese, chocolate and cola, which he says are foods consumed in excess in Waimänalo, and remain a basis for obesity, hypertension and high cholesterol. The screening involves a single pinprick. With two drops of blood and 10 minutes, a litany of medical questions can be answered, including good and bad cholesterol levels, insulin levels and triglyceride levels. A brief consultation on diet, exercise and lifestyle adjustments follows the screening.

"If you can inform them, then they can make their own decisions," says Akina.

His work has been so successful, he has been awarded a second government grant, to provide the same service in Hau'ula and Punalu'u. Prior to receiving the second grant this year, Akina still found time to see patients at the Waimänalo Health Center, where he served as medical director after his retirement from the Honolulu Medical Group in 1993.

Akina worked at the nonprofit Waimänalo Health Center for many years without pay, noting the social problems endemic to the community there. He saw the high incidence of heart disease and diabetes, and believed prevention needed to be combined with community outreach.

"To be effective, you have to get out and make contact with people who do not normally access medical services, whether they are insured or not," Akina says.

In addition to his work with Native Hawaiian communities, Akina also serves as a trustee for the Victoria S. and Bradley L. Geist Foundation (which helps foster children) and the Academy of Arts. He also serves on the boards of the Bishop Museum and Read Aloud America. Retirement for Akina doesn't add up to much leisure time, but he says the rewards of community service are significant.

"I had always thought of doing [community service] when I retired," Akina says of his 30 years at the Honolulu Medical Group. "But then it dawned on me that physicians don't really retire."

Making a Difference is presented in partnership with Hawai'i Community Foundation, a statewide grant-making organization supported by generous individuals, families and businesses to benefit Hawai'i's people. For information: www.hawaiicommunityfoundation.org

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