Wanting to improve the quality of medical care in Southern Nevada so that residents won’t feel they need to travel out of state for top-notch treatment, a Las Vegas woman has made a sizeable donation to the UNLV School of Medicine to fund scholarships.
Arlene Kageyama-Chikami gave a seven-figure sum to establish the Arlene M. Kageyama-Chikami and Richard K. Chikami Scholarship Endowment Fund to provide money for future students so that families will not experience what she and her late husband, Richard, did when he suddenly was taken ill last year.
She still seems stunned about what occurred. One morning her husband felt ill, so she took him to the emergency room. Tests revealed he had advanced liver cancer. Regular doctor visits over the years never had revealed a problem with his liver. Upon receiving the dire diagnosis, he was medevaced to UCLA for treatment but died within a week.
“It was a total shock,” she said. “There was no time to do any planning. It was just terrible.”
Kageyama-Chikami said the stress of her 71-year-old husband’s illness was compounded by his having to be transported to Los Angeles for possible life-saving treatment.
“We should have the proper medical care in Las Vegas. You shouldn’t have to leave town.”
She said she hopes that not only will the endowment help take some of “horrific debt burden” off students so they can pursue the medical field of their choice, but that ultimately it also will increase the number of doctors in Southern Nevada.
Love at First Sight
The couple met in 1984 and had been married 28 years. He captained a fishing vessel large enough to hold 1,100 pounds of tuna and to handle regular helicopter landings. She was a certified public accountant with two degrees from UCLA.
They met at a party and “Richard told me for him it was love at first sight,” she recalled.
After dating for a few years, the pair tired of the long separations — and substantial telephone bills — necessitated by his sea journeys and decided to marry.
“Richard called me one day at work and told me his boat was in for repairs in Cairns, Australia (the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef). He said, ‘Why don’t you come here and we’ll get married here?’ I said OK and asked when. He said, ‘Two weeks.’”
She lined up airline tickets, bridesmaids, and dresses and then flew to Australia for the wedding.
A Bit of Contradiction
Ironically, the fish that provided Richard’s livelihood, were toxic for his wife.
“If I just touch a fish, I get the hives. If I inhale it, my throat closes off. Before we got married, I kissed a Greek sailor and didn’t realize he had eaten fish. My face blew up so big I couldn’t get my glasses on," she said. “I really needed Benadryl. Without it, I’d itch myself to death trying to sleep.”
Noting that opposites do attract, she said, “I love cats and he was allergic to cats.” But, she said, love really does conquer all if you’re careful not to induce allergic reactions. “After he retired (in the 90s), he’d take me fishing at a lake, but I didn’t have to bait the hook or, if I caught one, I didn’t have to take the fish off.
“He always used to joke that I was a terrible fisherman and the fish really had to be dumb if I caught one. I often didn’t notice one was on the line, didn’t feel it jerk. One time I got my line with a fish on it caught in the anchor line. He really laughed like crazy at that and wouldn’t let me forget it. If he was going to cook fish in the house, I’d be on the way out, telling him he was committing adultery again with his fish. Of course he’d have to air the place out before I came back.”
While Richard made a living fishing, she spent 34 years working as a national financial accounting troubleshooter for aerospace giant TRW/Northrop Grumman.
Once she had to troubleshoot a problem in Arizona when she discovered that her company had been shorted millions of dollars on a government contract. “I asked if I could have the check then and they wanted to know if I could wait for an hour. I said sure because we had already waited two months. I walked out of there with a check for $30 million."
A Loving Legacy
Kageyama-Chikami remembers her time with Richard with obvious fondness.
“You’re very lucky if you can find the right one, if you can latch on to your soulmate like I did,” she said. “We didn’t inherit our money. Nobody gave us anything. We were just middle-class people who worked hard, who saved their money, and made some good investments.
“If what my husband and I have done can help increase both the quantity and quality of physicians in Las Vegas, that would be a good thing.”