Dr. Sakaye Shigekawa, a pioneering Nisei physician who persevered through sexism and prejudice to build a successful medical career, passed away on Oct. 18 in Los Angeles. She was 100.

Dr. Sakaye Shigekawa (Discover Nikkei)

Shigekawa estimated that she had delivered more than 20,000 babies during her career, which began in the 1940s.

Shigekawa was born a twin to Issei parents in South Pasadena on Jan. 6, 1913. She was inspired to go into medicine after her father was hospitalized for six months at Good Samaritan Hospital after coming down with double pneumonia, which developed into emphysema.

“I got acquainted with all the nurses, and the doctor was very kind,” Shigekawa said in an interview for the 2004 book “Silent Scars of Healing Hands.” “I thought, I’d like to [do] what he is doing for my father, so that was the beginning of my wanting to study medicine.”

Shigekawa was one of only four women admitted in the 1930s to the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. She began her residency in obstetrics at L.A. County General Hospital in 1941. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, she was dismissed from the hospital and was incarcerated at Santa Anita Assembly Center, where she was one of seven doctors who helped to care for 17,000 detainees.

She left Santa Anita to complete her residency in Chicago at Walter Memorial Hospital. When the hospital cut her salary in half, Shigekawa joined a female physician and developed a large practice in a Polish and Italian neighborhood. In 1948, Shigekawa returned to Los Angeles, where she initially practiced at Japanese Hospital. She became one of the first minority physicians accepted at Queen of Angels Hospital, and in 1977 was the first woman elected president of the hospital’s medical staff.

Through her decades-long career, Shigekawa noted that she never lost a mother and continued to practice well into her 80s. She was also active in the community as a member of the Japanese American Medical Association and serving as president of Japanese Community Health Inc., (JCHI). She was also a supporter of the Japanese American National Museum and USC. She could often be seen at gatherings wearing one of her many fashionable and colorful hats.

Her niece, Janet Shigekawa Nakamaru, said it was her patients that loved Shigekawa the most.

“I spoke to an elderly friend of her who had the greatest complement I have ever heard from anyone.  She said that my aunt, affectionately called ‘Shiggy,’ taught her how to be happy,” said Nakamaru.

At her request, there will be no funeral.

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  1. I was born in Queen of Angels hospital in 1978. I was told that I was delivered by a Japanese Doctor. And also was named Sakura by that doctor. I decided to look it up and I wonder if it was Dr Shikegawa.

  2. She delivered me at Queen of Angels hospital back in the early 1960’s. My mother spoke highly of her. A true Nisei pioneer

  3. Dr Shigekawa came into my life at the age of 11 as my mother took me to her office for a checkup & shots in Hollywood. She was the most amazing Doctor who was part of my life as I married & she delivered 2 of my children at Queen of Angels Hospital. She was unlike anyone you could ever have for a doctor. She was always there if you called no matter what time of the day or night & her care & concern was unsurpassed !!! Our 3 children grew up with the BEST & with her dedication to her patients they received excellent care & never had any serious ailments or sickness! My husband also became her patient & loved her! One of the most special things about her that I always remember that no matter if you came for your office visit or she was delivering your baby at 5AM she was dressed beautifully with her amazing jewelry, hats & suits & her love shined through & you felt so at ease & safe in her care. We will always keep her in our hearts! She was definitely LOVED BY ALL !

  4. Dr. Shigekawa delivered my sister, my cousin, myself and my two children. My children are 41 and 37. She will be sorely missed by the Murata family.