Hawaii leads the nation in Kawasaki disease cases - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Hawaii leads the nation in Kawasaki disease cases

Kammi Matsumoto Kammi Matsumoto
Marian Melish Marian Melish

By Teri Okita – bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Today is National Kawasaki Disease Awareness Day. Never heard of it before? Well, doctors here are hoping to change that because Hawaii has the highest rates of the disease in the nation.

Nine year old Kammi Matsumoto has become quite close to her doctor, Marian Melish. Back in 2004, Kammi was rushed to Kapiolani Children's Medical Center - where Dr. Melish diagnosed her with KD, Kawasaki disease - a rare blood vessel disorder that strikes quickly with fever, a strawberry-like tongue, bloodshot eyes, swollen lymph nodes, and rashes.

"When I first came here and we started seeing children, we had fatal cases. We had children who were sick for days and days, " says Dr. Melish.

Melish was one of the pioneers of KD some four decades ago and remains one of the country's leading experts. Not only does Hawaii have more cases of the illness than any other state in the nation, its rates are second only to Japan and Korea, globally. Kapiolani Childrens Medical Center treats up to 100 new cases a year – about two a week. Over the years, researchers have discovered effective treatments for the disease and now, the risk of dying is very low.

"Nevertheless," says Melish, "If not treated within the first 10 days, 25 percent of children will have some heart problems."

The cause of Kawasaki disease still baffles experts, but they do know that 50 percent of patients are under the age of two and 80 percent, under the age of five. It's most common in children of Japanese or Korean descent, so genetics likely play a role. Patients can recover from it, as Kammi tells her friends.

"I tell them that, once I had Kawasaki disease. It's some kind of disease that cannot spread," says the New City fourth grader.

Kammi's mom knows the stress that accompanies a little-known disease so she helps the National Kawasaki Disease Foundation - by reaching out to local parents. "I understand what kind of situation they're in," says Kimberly Kim. "They're pretty frantic. So, I will take a call at two in the morning, if I need to."

The Centers for Disease Control considers KD a rare disease, and funding is often tougher to get for uncommon illnesses. Funding was recently slashed for KD research, so Doctor Melish and Kammi's mom are hoping to raise public awareness and money for more studies. They'd also like to open up a local chapter of the Kawasaki Disease Foundation. For more information, you can log onto kdfoundation.org or kapiolani.org.

With early intervention and a heart healthy lifestyle, patients like Kammi can live a long and happy life.

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