There's a good reason why Dr. Whitney Limm's license plate reads "Hang 9."
His surfboard leash wrapped itself around his toe and tore it off in a freak surfing accident
a couple of years ago. He keeps a digital photo of that foot on his computer so he won't have
to take his shoe off to prove it.
"My kids think it's so funny. They ask me to show it to their friends," says Limm, a member
of HMSA's Board of Directors, and a surgeon who specializes in kidney transplants.
Limm's interest in medicine began with a series of emergency room visits for surfing and sports
injuries long before he lost that toe. And, judging by his license plate, he's kept a good
sense of humor about his misfortunes.
Limm learned to take things in stride at a very young age. Although he was born in Taiwan,
his family later moved to Hong Kong and then, when he was 10, to Hawai'i. He changed schools
many times and had to learn a new language with each move.
Sometimes he found it hard to fit in, as on his first day of class in fourth grade at Kapalama
Elementary School -- the same day he started learning to speak English. Language proved to be
an easily surmountable barrier.
Now in his mid-40s, he remains lean, and boasts a full head of black hair. And he stays quite
In addition to his private practice, he serves as medical director and chief of general surgery
for The Queen's Medical Center, deputy director of the Surgical Residency Program at the University
of Hawai'i, and president of the Hawaii Chapter of the American College of Surgeons. He also
serves, unpaid, on many local boards, including HMSA's.
"As an employer, an HMSA beneficiary, and an HMSA provider," he says, "I think I can offer
Limm says he enjoys the diverse insights of the other HMSA board members, which include people
in business, clergy, medicine, finance and the community. It's been educational, he says, and
has caused him to think deeply about the future of health care costs.
"We all have the same goal," Limm says, "access to quality health care. But do we allow spending
to continue unrestrained? If, for example, someone is treated for a heart attack and continues
to smoke, do we continue to pay?
"As a community, we need to recognize that we have a defined amount of resources to spend on
health care and that costs are rising. It's a significant problem we all need to address."
His extra duties keep him occupied, but Limm is foremost a doctor. He recently got a call at
5 a.m. to fly to Maui. A young man had died. "In the midst of their grief," he says, "his parents
were offering to donate his organs."
When Limm returned, his associates had prepared three recipients. One of them received the
young man's liver and the other two, a kidney each. Each kidney meant freedom from dialysis.
The team finished just after 11 p.m.
Still, he manages to find time for favorite pastimes, including surfing and running. Limm runs
four to six miles three times a week and eats a healthy diet to keep pace with his busy life.
Basically, Limm's approach to life is like surfing: By staying in balance, he avoids getting
creamed by the turbulence. And somehow, he makes it look easy.