Dr. Tomisaku Kawasaki (1925-2020) passed away on June 5, 2020, at age 95. He was a highly skilled general pediatrician who described the illness which now bears his name, and he devoted most of his long and distinguished career to supporting research related to the mysteries of Kawasaki disease, to raise awareness and to advocate for Kawasaki patients around the world until shortly before his death. His wife Reiko, also a pediatrician, died in June, 2019, at the age of 90, and he is survived by two daughters and a son.
It was in January 1961 at the Red Cross Hospital that he evaluated a 4 year old boy with prolonged fever and clinical features that did not fit well with previously known disease entities. A year later he encountered another child with the same features. These, he told us, he filed in the category of the Japanese equivalent of GOK, ‘God Only Knows.’ When he had accumulated a total of 7 such patients by October 1962, he presented these cases to a regional pediatric meeting of the Japan Pediatric Society as an apparently new disease. However, that idea was met with considerable skepticism, particularly, he recalled, by an eminent Professor at Tokyo University Medical School.
When asked why it was in the 1960’s that Kawasaki disease was able to be recognized, he credited the introduction of measles vaccine. He noted that the near disappearance of measles, which had affected virtually all children with somewhat similar muco-cutaneous symptoms, facilitated recognition of Kawasaki disease.
Despite so many public accolades, Dr. Kawasaki was kind and unassuming, with a great sense of humor, and was the “life of the party” at gatherings. He mingled with parents of children with Kawasaki disease and with former patients from babies to middle-aged adults. He encouraged young and old physicians and scientists and patiently listened to their presentations. Many of our colleagues have appropriately spoken of him as the ultimate role model for a pediatrician. He loved parties and overseas trips and singing in karaoke gatherings. He particularly enjoyed the International Kawasaki Disease Symposia occurring every three years, alternating mostly between Japan and Hawaii.
We will miss him greatly as will all those who have had the pleasure of knowing him.