Category Archives: Blog / Personal Business

RIP, Dr. Hiromi Shinya

Today, I learned of the passing of Dr. Hiromi Shinya, who died in Tokyo, Japan on December 9, 2021. Dr. Shinya was a pioneer of colonoscopic techniques, the inventor of the electrosurgical polypectomy snare, which allowed for the removal of colon polyps without the need for invasive surgery. This is a deeply personal loss, as I will explain.

As Wikipedia tells us:

Hiromi Shinya was born [on March 6,] 1935 in the city of Yanagawa in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan. … From a young age, his mother … encouraged him to earn a medical degree and pursue medicine in the United States. He graduated from Juntendo University School of Medicine in 1960. He then applied with nine hundred other candidates for one of fourteen openings for interns at the United States Naval Hospital in Yokosuka. Passage of the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates examination was required for the program, necessitating a high degree of English fluency, so he “spent a lot of time going to American movies” to prepare. He married Miyoko Mogi on March 6, 1963. She was a nurse on the Yokosuka Naval base. She graduated from Tokyo University nursing school.

Following his internship, Dr. Shinya would go on to complete a surgical residency at Beth Israel Medical Center, becoming involved in a revolutionary new technique in gastrointestinal medicine: endoscopic and colonoscopic procedures. From Wikipedia:

Shinya began developing colonoscopic techniques with an esophagoscope from Olympus Optical Co., Ltd.. The instrument was a short fiberscope with a two-way maneuverable tip and was designed for use on the esophagus, but with it, Shinya was able to reach the splenic flexure—the first bend in the colon—about 50% of the time. While other doctors were concurrently developing colonoscopic techniques, most of them practiced a two-person technique, with one person controlling the direction of the tip while the other controlled insertion. Shinya was in the minority who rejected this procedure, preferring to develop methods which allowed one endoscopist to perform colonoscopy reliably. As a result, “many and probably most of the fundamental principles of the procedure were developed by Dr. Shinya”. By the beginning of 1969, Olympus had introduced several iterations of dedicated colonoscopes, and Shinya was able to reach the cecum—located at the end of the colon—in 90% of his patients. Shinya’s other major contribution to colonoscopy was the invention of the electrosurgical polypectomy snare, known as the “Shinya snare” with the support of Olympus employee Hiroshi Ichikawa. Even before the results of the National Polyp Study linked colon polyps to colon cancer, Shinya instinctively “thought the polyp was the forerunner of cancer and that removing these polyps could reduce the risk of cancer”. Since polyp removal accounted for 30% of the colon surgery of the day, Shinya’s primary focus from his first experiences with colonoscopy was a noninvasive method of performing polypectomy. On January 8, 1969, he and Hiroshi Ichikawa sketched out the first plans for a snare attached to the end of a colonoscope that would allow for easy removal of polyps during colonoscopy. … Shinya … performed the first colonoscopic electrosurgical snare polypectomy in September 1969. In 1970, he delivered the first report of the procedure to the New York Surgical Society, and in May 1971 presented his experiences to the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.


This development made Shinya famous worldwide. There was immediate demand for his procedure, with his performing 20 colonoscopies a day. To date, he has performed approximately 370,000 colonoscopies and given nearly 300 live demonstrations of the technique. Polypectomy has gone on to surpass “all other endoscopic therapeutic procedures in terms of numbers performed” and “impacts the lives of millions of people throughout the world.” According to Michael Sivak Jr., it is the most important achievement in gastrointestinal endoscopy.

I can testify personally to the greatness of this man. I spent the bulk of my childhood deathly sick, and despite countless tests from scores of doctors, not a single doctor could come up with a diagnosis for the extreme intestinal symptoms I was experiencing—even as I was, essentially, withering away. By the time I was 13 years old, I was around 60 lbs.

Only my family doctor, Dr. Harry Karounos, was convinced—after performing a GI series in his own office (yes, they did that back then)—that it might be suppression of the duodenum caused by the Superior Mesenteric Artery. There was no way to get confirmation of this extremely rare condition known as Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome, a condition not clinically described until 1861, and not fully defined until 1927. There had only been a reported 400 congenital cases of SMAS in the literature (other acute cases related to body casts, have been diagnosed since, including one related to the spinal injury suffered by Christopher Reeve). The condition is so rare that it wasn’t until 2017 that a not-for-profit organization was founded to heighten awareness of it: Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome Research Awareness Support. In October of that same year, only “The Good Doctor”, in the second episode of its first season, featured a story in which a young girl nearly dies from it.

Back in 1973, we were extremely fortunate to have learned of the revolutionary new techniques in endoscopic medicine being performed by Dr. Shinya. We were able to schedule an esaphagogastroduodenoscopy, which Dr. Shinya performed on me, in his office, under sedation. In 20-30 minutes, Dr. Shinya provided a conclusive SMAS diagnosis. A few months later, on April 21, 1974, at Methodist Hospital, in Brooklyn—the hospital in which I was born in 1960—I was reborn, when Dr. Joseph Bochetto performed a major surgical duodenojejunostomy, by-passing the obstructed third and fourth portions of the duodenum. (There were no laproscopic surgical techniques available at the time.)

In the years since, I developed quite a few complications due to the by-pass surgery. I’ve had 60+ procedures since, all in some way related to the condition and its postoperative side effects. I discussed this condition in a Folks interview back in 2018, and in Notablog entries in January 2018 related to it.

But I am alive—and flourishing—to talk about. I have lived a happy, loving, and productive life, and I simply would not be here if it were not for Dr. Shinya. I mourn his passing, but I celebrate his life. He remains one of the greatest healers to have ever graced this planet. He was also a gentle man, a beautiful soul who was a source of enormous comfort—and hope—anytime you were in his caring presence.

There is an age-restricted video of Dr. Shinya performing a colonoscopy (not for the faint of heart) on YouTube; at his side in the video is his protégé, my current doctor: Dr. Mark Cwern. I thank Dr. Shinya not only for having saved my life, but for having provided me with the gift of Dr. Cwern, who has been by my side for many years, a man who has carried on the legacy of Dr. Shinya with enormous integrity and kindness.

Unfortunately, I have not found a single obituary to mark the passing of this giant in the field of gastrointestinal medicine. To his family, friends, and colleagues, I offer my deepest condolences. To the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives he personally saved, to the many millions of people whose lives have been saved due to the enormous contributions he has made, I dedicate this tribute. Thank you, dearest doctor, for all that you did for me. Rest in peace.

Dr. Hiromi Shinya (1935-2021)

A New FB Profile Pic … for Christmas!

It was either that ^ or this:

🙂

Went with #1! 😉

Uncle Nick, Godfather: RIP

On Thursday, November 11, 2021, my Uncle Nick Michalopoulos died at the age of 91, after several years of battling serious health issues. He was my mother’s brother.

My relationship with Uncle Nick was blessed quite literally from the very beginning. As my godfather, he held me in his arms when I was baptized on June 11, 1961 at the Three Hierarchs Church in Brooklyn (the church whose first pastor was my grandfather, Vasilios P. Michalopoulos, and my mom was his sister).

Born on June 14, 1930, Uncle Nick would go on to serve in the medical unit of the Navy during the Korean War. Thereafter, he worked thirty years at Western Electric. He was the only one of eight siblings to go on to attend college—Brooklyn College, to be precise. (My sister would follow in his footsteps, becoming the first in our extended family to graduate from Brooklyn College some years later.)

Throughout his life, Uncle Nick exhibited a remarkable range of wonderful talents—from singing to athletics, crafts to parenting. Indeed, he and my godmother, Aunt Vina, raised three children—my first cousins—to whom they have passed on their loving gifts: Will, Marie, and Christine. Add to that seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. In his retirement years, Uncle Nick enjoyed golfing and traveling, and was very handy, even crafting golf clubs and pitching-in with the church here in Brooklyn and out on Long Island, a testament to his strong Greek Orthodox faith.

Over the years, as I truly got to know my godfather, I saw that he had a sweet sense of life and a wonderfully dry sense of humor. Because he lived out on the island, we didn’t see each other as much as we would have liked, but we spoke regularly. I never missed a birthday, a holiday, or a Father’s Day wish.

I am deeply saddened by his passing. And I will carry his love in my heart forever. Rest in Peace, Uncle Nick.

Aunt Vina (l) and Uncle Nick (r)

Coronavirus (35): The ABCs — Authority, Boosters, and Caregiving

Since March 14, 2020, I have written 34 installments for my “Coronavirus” series. My last installment on August 21, 2021, “Coronavirus (34): ‘Virtue Signaling’ vs. Doing the Right Thing,” provoked over 200 reacts and nearly 100 comments, as people debated whether I was “virtue signaling” for having adopted a Facebook frame that said: “I Have a Healthy Distrust of Authority, and I’m Vaccinated.” I stated in that Notablog entry:

Let it be known far and wide that I am a libertarian who believes that it is indeed possible to be against the state and against coercion, and still voluntarily get myself vaccinated, despite the fact that the vaccine was developed by Big Pharma in league with Big Government. I believe in looking at the facts of reality as they are and making rational judgments based on the context of my own knowledge and experience. I’ve lived in a city that was, at one time, the epicenter of death and despair from this nightmarish virus. I’ve seen enough mass death for a lifetime and then some. I’ve lost family, friends, neighbors, and beloved neighborhood proprietors. And given my own medical preconditions and the health problems of my sister, for whom I am a primary caregiver, I made a reasonable decision to get vaccinated. My whole family is vaccinated. … We took the path of least risk, given that COVID could very well spell the difference between life and death for us.

Given that I have been publicly forthright and honest throughout my life about my own health problems, I wish to state, again, for the record, that today I received my third Moderna booster. And I am happy I got the booster, and have had no noticeable side effects. My sister is due to get her booster soon.

Now, I realize that I don’t need to justify my decisions publicly, but I’m doing so for one reason and one reason above all else, which was suggested in my last entry.

On November 13, 2020, I nearly lost my sister to a very serious illness; she subsequently underwent extensive back surgery on March 22, 2021. After four-and-a-half months in both the hospital and a subacute rehab facility, she returned home in July 2021, and I continued being her primary caregiver, as she has been mine through all the ups and downs I’ve faced over my entire life—the 60+ surgical procedures I’ve endured to keep me ticking. The stories I can—and eventually will—tell about the U.S. Healthcare System are not the subject of this post. Suffice it to say, the current system sucks for a variety of political, economic, and cultural reasons that I’ll address at a future date.

But the problems endemic to U.S. healthcare did not prevent us from taking the necessary steps to protect ourselves from a virus that, given our comorbidities, would most certainly have put our lives at risk. I have been confident in the guidance of my doctors who have kept me alive all these years and who have been at my sister’s side during what has been the most difficult year of her life. Every doctor bar none recommended that we get ourselves inoculated to protect against a potentially deadly COVID-19 infection. I am happy to report that whatever illnesses have plagued us, none of us has been infected by that coronavirus. We’ve got enough problems! Yes, breakthrough infections are possible, but they remain rare. We think we’ve done all that we can to fight off one more layer of catastrophic illness in the Sciabarra household.

In the end, I remain vigilant against Authority, even as I’ve taken a third Booster (and will take any additional boosters as might become necessary, even if they are among annual shots, like those for the flu). I do this because Self Care is as important as Caregiving. For unless I take care of myself, I will lose the capacity to take care of the people I love. I will not become a transmission belt for an infection that most assuredly could kill my own immuno-compromised sister.

I leave it to others to decide what path they will take. I only know that after my sister’s umpteen hospitalizations over the last year, I can look at this photo of her, taken on Halloween, and know in my heart that I’ve done everything I possibly can to keep her out of harm’s way. Her smile says it all.

Ten Creepy! Scary! Shocking! LOL! Horror Film Moments: “Night of the Living Dead” (VII)

One more for today: The seventh installment in my “cinematic moments” series, “Ten Creepy! Scary! Shocking! LOL! Horror Film Moments”, is from the low-budget George Romero 1968 black-and-white classic that gave new life to the zombie genre: “Night of the Living Dead.” From the opening scene, where Johnny tries to scare his sister in a cemetery with the line, “They’re coming to get you Barbara”, the die—no pun intended—has been cast. Check out the scene where the dead rise, and we’re not talkin’ Lazarus!

Taking out the Trash on Social Media

At one point, only a couple of months ago, I was nearing 5000 Facebook “friends”, whom I was adding throughout the years without giving much thought to it. But the increasing toxicity over the last few years has been palpable. It led me to “trim” my FB “friend” list by over 4000 people.* I’ve even invited some folks to unfriend me if they didn’t like what I had to say, and lo and behold, my wish was granted! THANK GOODNESS! I have had it with the toxicity and the nastiness in social media. I’ve seen it up close and personal for all too many years. Life is too short.

Taking out the trash …

___
* And for the record, I still have over 940 FB “friends”. We don’t all agree! But there is a difference between having a disagreement and being disagreeable. (Actually, it’s now below 940… so clearly, the approach is working!)

But more importantly, it’s not just about taking toxicity out of the airspace; at root, it’s about self-care, indeed. Nobody should have to devote one moment of their time to something that is as corrosive as that kind of interaction. It erodes us and it diminishes us. All the more reason to take the intiative and do what’s right for yourself.

Happy Anniversary, Bro and Wan!

Just wanted to give a shout-out to my brother, Carl Barry and my sister-in-law, Joanne Barry—they are children of the stage, after all, as wonderful jazz musicians—for a Happy Anniversary. Yes, I call my brother “Bro” and my sister-in-law “Wan”, and it’s their $#-th wedding anniversary, and I would have put up this as a “Song of the Day”, except I did so on this date back in 2005! “Do you remember the 21st night of September?” I sure do! Many more happy and healthy returns, with much love, always!

September” also happens to be one of my all-time favorite Earth, Wind & Fire hits, with a wonderful lead vocal by the late, great Maurice White. Below is the group performing the song, but also check out an all-star performance of it at the 2019 Kennedy Center Honors [YouTube link].

Facebook: Trust, but Verify!

Earlier today, I was invited by Facebook to complete a process of authentication that would secure my profile with a “verified badge,” such that people who read my posts on my Timeline can trust that the words come from me! A check mark now appears to the right of my name on my profile page and to the right of my name anywhere that I make a comment. Hovering over that check mark, you’ll see that “Facebook confirmed that this is the authentic profile for this public figure.” Public figure! Wow!

As Facebook explains:

The verified badge appears next to a Facebook Page or profile. It means Facebook has confirmed that the Page or profile is the authentic presence of the public figure or global brand it represents. We don’t use the verified badge to endorse or recognize public figures or brands. The verified badge is a tool to help people find public figures and brands’ real Pages and profiles. If a Page or profile has the verified badge, we’ve confirmed that it represents who it says it does. If the badge isn’t there, it may not be the real Page or profile. Posts, stories and other content from verified Pages and profiles aren’t verified by Facebook.

So rest assured, my Facebook account is not a sock account (or, more properly, a “sock puppet account“), and my page represents an “authentic,” “unique,” “complete,” and “notable” profile. Given all that’s happened on Facebook over the last few years, I don’t know if this is a plus or a minus. But there aren’t many other folks who would want to “own” the dialectical libertarian “brand” I represent. I knew who I was before this verification process. I know who I am today. And, now, apparently, so do you!

smh 🙂