Canadian Medical Association

Calgary; Queen’s University, 1998; urology. Died of pancreatic cancer Aug. 30, 2021, aged 48. Survived by his spouse and partner, Dr. Julie Hong, and 2 children. Dr. Hong says her husband left behind “countless lessons” during his career. “He knew that the most important person in the operating room was the patient. When he learned new skills and techniques, he found it was incredibly frustrating, and he wanted to quit many times. He had to push himself out of his comfort zone with each new technique, but he knew that growth comes from discomfort. He constantly tried for challenging cases, even though that meant he was constantly in some kind of mild discomfort. However, he never pushed himself too far outside of his comfort zone — he knew that this could adversely impact patients’ lives. When he was going through chemotherapy, he stopped working because ‘the OR is not a playground. People’s lives are at stake. I don’t want to hurt anyone because I’m not at 100 percent.’ He counselled new urologists to do simpler cases first, get comfortable, and then slowly push ahead. He was always striving to be a better surgeon, and he never finished learning. He spent countless hours reviewing his own cases by video, taking notes and finding ways to improve. He studied cases days before they were scheduled, making the anesthetists and nurses aware of any potential difficulties. He avoided most bad outcomes by being prepared and communicating with everyone beforehand. When he did have a bad outcome, he took responsibility. He felt guilty, but he was not debilitated. Most importantly, he realized it wasn’t about his discomfort — it was all about the patient. He laid his ego down and did everything he could to make reparations. Whenever he got into a crisis situation in the OR, he would recognize his role as leader and set the tone and energy in the room. He realized that getting angry and causing those in the room to panic was detrimental for everyone. He remained calm in crisis because he knew that his demeanour directly affected the outcome. It was never chaos working with him. The first thing he did after every case was call each patient’s loved ones. He knew how worried they would be. He even called after a simple circumcision. In difficult times, he always asked for help. He did not care about his own ego or reputation — he realized it wasn’t about him. He recognized the value of asking for help. He knew that he had surrounded himself with amazing people he could draw upon for support. He always said what was on his mind, and stuck up for what he thought was right. He did this out of respect for everyone he worked with. He respected people enough to give them a chance to grow by saying, ‘Hey, what you are doing is not right, make a different choice, make the healing choice.’ This cultivated a group of people around him that he deeply admired, trusted, respected and loved. He wanted people to know that, as a friend, colleague and doctor, he could always be relied on to show up. That is the true attribute of Dr. Kawakami and his true legacy. How to be. How to live. How to love.”

Back to top