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Renowned doctor led medical breakthroughs

  • DENNIS ODA / 2009
                                Dr. Livingston Wong, left, shared a moment in 2009 with Jeanette Chong, who received a kidney transplant in 1971 when she was in her mid-20s. Wong conducted the state’s first kidney and bone marrow transplants. He also was a dogged advocate for modernizing the state’s emergency medical services.

    DENNIS ODA / 2009

    Dr. Livingston Wong, left, shared a moment in 2009 with Jeanette Chong, who received a kidney transplant in 1971 when she was in her mid-20s. Wong conducted the state’s first kidney and bone marrow transplants. He also was a dogged advocate for modernizing the state’s emergency medical services.

                                <strong>Livingston Wong: </strong>
                                <em>A dogged advocate of modernizing emergency services </em>


    Livingston Wong:

    A dogged advocate of modernizing emergency services

It would be hard to imagine the annals of Hawaii medicine without Dr. Livingston Wong.

From conducting the state’s first kidney and bone marrow transplants to his dogged advocacy for modernizing the state’s emergency medical services, Wong’s impact on the local medical community was beyond significant.

And by all accounts, Wong’s pioneering achievements came with a quiet humility devoid of any desire for attention or credit.

“A quiet innovator,” Dr. Linda Wong said in describing her father. “He wanted to make Hawaii as good as the rest of the United States when it came to medical care. He didn’t want applause or attention. He just did it because he thought it needed to be done.”

Livingston Wong, 90, died Oct. 25.

A graduate of Maryknoll School and the University of Hawaii, the Honolulu native received his medical degree from the University of Oregon’s Oregon Health Sciences University. After completing his residency in general surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital, he returned home to set up his surgical practice in 1965.

Recognizing the need for kidney transplant surgeries to take place locally, Wong took the steps to bring the procedure here — going to the continental United States to receive the training, ensuring the proper equipment and techniques were made available here and assembling the team to help him.

“This was not something that was done that often back in 1969,” Linda Wong said. “They thought he was crazy for trying to do something like this. They didn’t think something like that could be done in Hawaii.”

Wong went through the same steps when he saw the need for bone marrow transplants, and he is credited for performing the first of those in Hawaii in 1978.

In between, he started the state’s first transplant program in Hawaii at the St. Francis Medical Center while his private practice grew and later became Surgical Associates Inc., attracting some of the top transplant surgeons in the nation.

Among them was Linda Wong, who joined her father’s medical practice in 1993 and performed Hawaii’s first liver transplant. Another specialist was recruited to perform pancreatic transplant surgeries.

In 1984, Livingston Wong helped the team that conducted the state’s first heart transplant.

In 1987, he founded the Organ Donor Center of Hawaii, what’s now known as Legacy of Life Hawaii, the nonprofit that recovers organs and tissues for transplant.

In the 1970s, Wong played a key role in the modernization of emergency medical care in the state. He lobbied successfully for the state to receive $12 million in federal funds to upgrade the emergency medical system and, later, pressed for the implementation of a single, 911 emergency call number.

Ambulances had been operating in Hawaii since the 1940s. But it wasn’t until the early 1970s that there was a nationwide movement to modernize pre-hospital care, and Livingston Wong made sure that that happened through education, legislation and technology, said Dr. Jim Ireland, Honolulu emergency medical services chief.

“We essentially had the birth of paramedics in the 1970s and every region (of the U.S.) needed physician advocacy and physician leadership to move those paramedic programs into fruition,” Ireland said.

In Hawaii, Wong explained to political leaders and the public the need for the modern paramedic, Ireland said. No longer ambulance attendants, paramedics were expected to perform pre-hospitalization duties previously only allowed of doctors, such as providing patients medications, starting intravenous lines and performing advanced life-saving medical procedures such as defibrillation and endotracheal intubation, Ireland said.

“Paramedics needed a physician champion to move this progress along and he was that champion for Hawaii,” Ireland said. “To say he was one of the fathers of Hawaii EMS today would be accurate.”

Wong also was a professor of surgery at the John A. Burns School of Medicine and was vice chair (1991-2004), acting chair (1997-1998) and interim chair (2000-01).

“He was a premier general and transplant surgeon in Hawaii and was widely respected for his surgical skills, sound judgment, wisdom, and humility,” Dr. Kenric Murayama, chairman of the school’s Department of Surgery said on the JABSOM website in a tribute to Wong. “Dr. Wong was a surgeon’s surgeon providing mentorship, advice, and support to many of the surgeons in our community.”

Wong won numerous honors. In 1999, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin placed Wong on its 100 Who Made a Difference list for the 20th century.

At home, Livingston Wong taught his children the importance of a strong work ethic and all five achieved successful careers in their own right, Linda Wong said.

Besides Linda, daughter Rosemarie became an environmental engineer, daughter Jessica became a certified public accountant, son Jack is Kamehameha Schools chief executive officer and son Lyle is office manager for Surgical Associates.

Livingston Wong is also survived by his wife, Linda; a brother, Alvin; and eight grandchildren.

A celebration of life is slated for 2021.

Donations in his memory can be made to Legacy of Life Hawaii, the Livingston Wong Endowment Fund for Public Education and Outreach, 405 North Kuakini St., Suite 810, Honolulu, 96817. Or go to

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