Kidney transplant pioneer Satoru Nakamoto, MD (CARD’57), was one of Cleveland Clinic’s oldest
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Donna and Dr. Christopher Lew with Grace Nakamoto
and most distinguished staff members when, on May 5, 2020, he passed away at the age of 92. To honor him and his wife, Grace, their son-in-law and daughter, Dr. Christopher and Donna Lew, have established the Dr. Satoru and Grace Nakamoto Award for the Development of Leadership in Medical Humanities and Arts.
This annual award, which recognizes an individual who embodies true leadership qualities, provides a minimum $5,000 grant to develop a project or enhance the recipient’s leadership in the medical humanities.
Dr. Nakamoto, who joined Cleveland Clinic in 1956, was appointed head of the newly formed Department of Hemodialysis in 1967. He became a pioneer in dialysis and renal transplantation and directed the kidney transplantation program during its crucial, formative years. Colleagues admired his intellect, perseverance and innovations that produced the seminal work in renal transplantation. Dr. Nakamoto was considered the consummate physician, researcher and educator, who made patient care his priority and played an important role in teaching nephrology fellows the technical aspects of dialysis, as well as how best to care for transplant and chronic dialysis patients.
“Donna and I thought a gift to Cleveland Clinic would be a natural thing to do,” Dr. Lew says. “We thought about what we could do to remember him and that this award would be a way for someone to carry on Dr. Nakamoto’s beliefs and values – his interests in research, patient care and outreach to other physicians.”
Mrs. Lew agrees. “We chose to make our gift to recognize my father as a kind and caring physician and innovative researcher, and we would like the award to go to someone like him. Our hopes are for medical advancements that will be practical and accessible to all.”
The Lews say that Dr. Nakamoto would especially want recipients of this award to prioritize patients.
“The purpose of the hospital is to help the patient,” Mrs. Lew says. “Each person is unique and should be treated as an individual.”
Mrs. Lew says that in addition to her father’s research and clinical achievements, she would like him to be remembered for valuing all hospital support staff, whose contributions have helped make Cleveland Clinic world-renowned. “Personally, my father was modest and respectful. He maintained lifetime friendships with colleagues, trainees, patients and their families.” She has fond memories of her father telling her about his early days in research and all the adventures he shared with his best friend, Dudley Seto, MD (IM’62), who trained with him under Willem J. Kolff, MD, PhD (Staff’50), and went on to pioneer kidney dialysis in Hawaii.
Although they first met in Hawaii, where Dr. Nakamoto pursued medical training after emigrating from Japan, the Nakamotos didn’t become a couple until he was a medical resident at the University of Colorado in Denver, where she already worked as a nurse. They married in 1958.
Before she passed away on April 8, 2023, Mrs. Nakamoto (nee Maruo) and Mrs. Lew recalled that when Dr. Nakamoto was at home each evening, he focused solely on his family and household projects. “He was always busy with DIY repairs and projects – except when taking his daily nap!” Mrs. Nakamoto said.
The Nakamotos enjoyed hosting his colleagues at their home. “She cooked a lot of dinners!” Mrs. Lew says of her mother. “They entertained often. When my dad had residents and fellows from Japan, they always brought presents for my mom. My dad used to say that he did all the work and my mom got all the gifts!” The family also traveled together, including trips to visit her father’s friends in Japan, Brazil and Puerto Rico.
In addition to daughter, Donna, the Nakamotos had two sons, Dean Nakamoto, MD (Miki), and David Nakamoto; and five grandchildren, Kent and Alissa Nakamoto, and Alexander, Maria and Michele Lew.