Just What The Doctors Ordered
For Drs. Shane Morita and Jaimie Tom, the prescription to a healthy family life is faith, gratitude and service
As the holiday season quickly approaches, it’s easy for Drs. Shane Morita and Jaimie Tom to get lost in the hustle and bustle of shopping, parties and work get-togethers. Add to that the busy schedules of the two full-time physicians and their children, who are constantly rushing to sports events and school activities, and it becomes that much more challenging to remember the reason for the season.
Yet for Morita and Tom — a surgical oncologist and emergency room physician, respectively —they’ve learned to manage crazy itineraries (and be happy) through faith, gratitude and service.
“It’s constant but controlled chaos,” says Morita with a laugh. “(But) we somehow make it work. My wife is a superhero. We go to church and we pray and ask God all the time to help us. But we make it work.”
It would be easy to dismiss taking time to give back during the busiest season of the year. But not for this family.
Instead, the holidays are the ideal time for Morita and Tom, who have been married for 21 years, to stress the importance of family, community and gratitude to their sons.
“For Shane and I both, we wanted to open our children’s eyes to realize that not everybody has the things that they have,” Tom explains. “Whether it be material things or family that is around to support them, not everyone is as lucky.
I think we’ve always wanted them to realize early on that they are very fortunate.”
Giving to those who need it most is something the Morita boys do on a regular basis — and it’s not just because their parents have dedicated their lives to helping others as physicians.
“We’ve tried to teach them to look for ways to help others, even through small gestures, like helping someone carry something if it looks like they are struggling,” says Tom. “It doesn’t have to be something big, just try to be as helpful as you can, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t get something back. Knowing that you’ve used whatever gifts God has given you to help someone when they needed your help is rewarding. I think our kids have really gravitated toward that.”
Even the couple’s youngest, 6-year-old Zechariah “Zechey” Morita, gets in on the philanthropic action. In fact, he and Tom recently took a trip to Hawai‘i Food-bank after a successful food drive at Noelani Elementary (where Zechey attends school) with canned good donations in hand.
“Helping others makes me feel grateful,” adds Zechey. “I just want to do stuff to make them (feel) good.”
Between sports practices and extracurriculars — Josiah competes in basketball and runs cross-country, Elijah spends his time at football and basketball practices, and Zechey plays baseball and basketball — they still find time and small ways to give back as a family.
One such endeavor is Keiki-Ade, in which the family goes to different community events to sell fruit slushies. Proceeds from drink sales are then donated to a charity of their choice, but the clan puts a big focus on organizations that benefit kids, including Make-A-Wish Hawai‘i, Compassion International, HUGS and After-School All-Stars.
“Some of the lessons that we’re learning is just how to be grateful,” says Josiah, 15, of the experience. “You see some kids who aren’t as fortunate as you. That could be you. You just have to be thankful for what you have and not take it for granted.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by his 12-year-old brother Elijah.
“For me, it’s kind of the same,” Elijah says. “Many times, I’ve taken things for granted that some kids don’t even have, like my video games or a phone. Some kids don’t get that. And I think that we’re just very fortunate, that we’re able to have this opportunity to help other people.”
Morita and Tom know full well that raising grateful children starts with parents and other adults who plant seeds of gratitude in young minds.
Morita credits his parents for instilling him with good values at a young age. His dad, Garry Takao Morita, was an electrician in their hometown of Hilo, and his mom, Soon Sun Morita, was a waitress at an area hotel.
“I truly feel that God gave me the best parents in the entire world,” Morita says. “My dad always encouraged me and my mom always prayed for me. They were always trying to help people … (and) they inspired me to serve others.”
Tom’s story follows a similar path of gratitude and how simple acts of kindness can change a person’s life. She grew up in Kahalu‘u with parents who worked hard to support the family, and spent a lot of time with her grandfather, who passed away from cancer when she was in college.
“Seeing what a difference his doctors made in his life to alleviate some of his suffering and giving our family more time to be with him left a huge impression on me,” she shares. “I felt so grateful that his doctors were dedicated to using their skills to help our family and people that they don’t even know.”
The gratitude that Morita and Tom live out loud extends to everything life hands to them — even the things that seem not so great at first glance. In fact, that theme is the starting point for how the couple met while attending medical school at University of Hawai‘i John A. Burns School of Medicine. “She actually didn’t think I was part of the class (during orientation) because of my behavior,” Morita recalls with a laugh.
Life circumstances prevented both from attending medical school right after college, but there was beauty that would come forth from the ashes.
“It was actually amazing that we ended up in the same class,” says Tom. “If we had each gone straight through, we wouldn’t have been in the same class. It all works out for a reason.”
Now, Tom is in the emergency rooms at Pali Momi Medical Center and Kapi‘olani Medical Center for Women and Children as part of US Acute Care Solutions. Morita, meanwhile, cares for patients at Queen’s Cancer Center as part of The Queen’s Health Systems, teaches students at JABSOM, conducts clinical studies for University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center and volunteers with American Cancer Society.
“We don’t know why things happen, good or bad,” Morita shares. “Things tend to work out, but you have to have faith that it will. I am so thankful to have a family that is so kind and compassionate.”
And while hard work and dedication do a lot to pave the way for a person’s future, there are always people along the way who display their appreciation through acts of kindness.
It’s true for Morita and Tom, as well. Throughout both their lives, people have stepped in to help along the way, whether it be through the giving of their time, money or resources.
“We wouldn’t be able to do it alone,” Tom says. “We get a lot of help from friends, neighbors and family. So many others have stepped in to help us as a family, and that we in turn should do whatever we can to help other people.”
Weekday mornings, for example, consist of carpools and tag-teaming with a close family friend to get the kids to school.
“Afternoons and weekends are just more unpredictable,” she adds. “We take it day by day.”
And that’s the way life is: busy mixed with a bit of unpredictability. It’s just a whole lot brighter when you live it with a heart of gratefulness.