Henry I. Akiyama

Posted: Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Longtime Juneau resident and well-known physician Dr. Henry I. Akiyama died April 9, 2010, after a brief struggle with B-cell lymphoma cancer. He spent his final days at home with his children by his side, receiving prayers, cards, e-mails and visits from his many friends, patients and staff.

Born April 18, 1927, in Hood River, Ore., to Tomeshichi and Itsu Akiyama, he was the youngest of five children. Growing up during the depression was filled with privation for the Akiyamas, but they were a close-knit family, and their fruit orchards and vegetable gardens sustained them.

At the age of 14, shortly after the United States entered World War II, he was incarcerated with his mother and sister and more than 100,000 Japanese Americans for three years in concentration camps in Pinedale and Tule Lake, Calif., and Minidoka, Idaho. While in camp, he completed high school in three years and graduated at the top of his class as valedictorian.

He returned to Hood River after the war and experienced firsthand racial intolerance toward Japanese Americans by many including former friends and neighbors. Wanting to prove his patriotism, he joined the U.S. Army in 1945, serving in an occupational force in Italy with the all-Nisei 442nd Infantry. He rose to the rank of sergeant before his discharge in 1948.

He attended Reed College on the GI Bill. There he met Grace Ebihara, and they were married on Sept. 7, 1952. In 1953, he received his Bachelor of Arts and subsequently attended the University of Oregon Medical School, graduating in 1957. He served his internship and residency at St. Vincent's Hospital in Portland, Ore., from 1957 to 1961. He and Grace had two children, Lisa and Alan.

He moved to Juneau in 1961, after being recruited by the Juneau Medical Clinic. He worked there for five years before starting his own practice at a medical-dental clinic on Glacier Avenue.

Dedicated to improving coronary care, his specialty was cardiology. He helped establish coronary care units in both St. Vincent's Hospital in Portland and Bartlett Memorial Hospital. He also helped develop a heart-related teaching program and trained CCU nurses. In 1969, he helped create the Mobile Coronary Care Unit in Juneau. He went to the scene of every cardiac arrest in Juneau from 1969 to 1982, and he personally went on 17 helicopter and four fixed-wing rescue missions.

"Providing humanitarian service was his love and his mission," his family said. "He dedicated his life to his patients and his community."

He retired from medical practice on Oct. 15, 2004, after 43 years.

He was preceded in death by his parents; wife, Grace; and brother-in-law, Tom Ichikawa.

He is survived by his children, Lisa Akiyama (Brad Rupert), of Arvada, Colo., and Alan Akiyama, of Juneau; sister, Kiyo Ichikawa, of Owego, N.Y.; brothers, George Noburo, Saburo, of Hood River, Ore.; and two grandsons, four great-grandchildren and seven nieces and nephews.

Donations in lieu of flowers can be made to Hospice and Home Health Care of Juneau or the Juneau Alaska Youth Choir's Grace T. Akiyama Scholarship Fund or a charity of their choice. A date and time for his "Celebration of Life" service will be announced at a later date.

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