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Hawaii News

Doctor organized isles’ first ambulance service

  • STAR-ADVERTISER / 2003

    Dr. Herbert Y.H. Chinn, with his wife Una, is draped with lei at a Hawaii Medical Association meeting at which he was honored as the group’s Physician of the Year. Chinn died Sept. 26 at age 97.

Dr. Herbert Y.H. Chinn, the Hawaii-born physician responsible for bringing ambulance service to the islands, died Sept. 26 of natural causes, according to his children. He was 97.

Chinn, one of the state’s first urologists, was also instrumental in launching the University of Hawaii’s medical school in the 1960s. He practiced medicine for more than 60 years and held several key leadership posts within the local medical establishment after statehood.

“He did quite a bit — and he didn’t talk a whole lot about it,” said Herbert Chinn, one of the elder Chinn’s three sons and chief of urology at The Queen’s Medical Center.

In 1971, as president of the Hawaii Medical Association, the elder Chinn found federal funding to develop Hawaii’s first Emergency Medical Technician program. Prior to that, the ambulances that picked up patients in Hawaii lacked fully trained paramedics and emergency equipment, according to another son, Steven, who’s also a urologist practicing at Straub Medical Center.

The move would also lead to Hawaii’s 911 emergency service.

The elder Chinn further lobbied state legislators and local physicians to support creating a UH medical school, his sons said. It eventually opened in 1965 as a two-year program and then became a full four-year degree program in 1973, according to the John A. Burns School of Medicine’s website.

Chinn also helped perform the state’s first kidney transplant, at St. Francis Medical Center in Liliha, and to develop the state’s first organ- transplant program, according to his sons. The younger Herbert Chinn recalled witnessing his father help perform part of that transplant in 1969 as a high school sophomore.

St. Francis’ then chief of staff chased the younger Chinn out of the room, however, because he had a camera, and officials worried that such a risky procedure might not succeed, Chinn recalled. The elder Chinn would later become chief of staff at St. Francis.

Chinn also served as president of the Honolulu County Medical Society, according to his sons.

He is also survived by wife Una Chuh Chinn; a third son, Eric; daughters Patricia Chinn, Barbara Lau and Wendy Vance; and nine grandchildren.

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