Dermatologist Cyrus Loo, 91, was 'unconventional'
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
While Honolulu dermatologist Cyrus Loo may best be remembered for his pioneering work in integrating Eastern healing practices with Western medicine, those closest to him say evidence of his talent and intellect can be found in nearly every line of his tall-tale life.
Loo, who died Jan. 27 at the age of 91, was one of the first Western doctors to explore the curative and therapeutic possibilities of acupuncture, applying what he had learned to thousands of ailing patients, including Brigham Young University quarterback Jim McMahon.
But he was also a self-taught musician who, despite not being able to read music, could play the "Minute Waltz" in exactly one minute and who learned the dizzying composition "Flight of the Bumblebee" by ear.
His skills as a certified handwriting analyst were so refined that he could discern signs of depression in the late writings of Ernest Hemingway, who killed himself in 1961. His expertise in the field earned him the 1964 International Graphoanalysts Society Award as the country's top handwriting analyst.
Private services for Loo were held last Friday. He had requested that his obituary not be published until after his funeral.
"He was unconventional," said Loo's eldest daughter, Dr. Chalsa Loo, with a chuckle.
Cyrus Loo graduated from Roosevelt High School and attended the University of Hawai'i for two years before transferring to the University of Cincinnati, where he earned his medical degree.
Loo and his wife, Amy, whom he met through his sister Beatrice, married in 1944, with future Hawai'i Supreme Court chief justice William Richardson serving as best man.
After completing post-graduate work in dermatology at the University of Virginia and studying mycology at Duke University , Loo returned to Honolulu in 1948, establishing a private practice on Alakea Street.
Loo put his practice on hold to serve as a U.S. Army captain during the Korean War, with assignments in Korea and Japan.
Chalsa Loo said her father was initially skeptical about acupuncture, once telling a friend that he was "foolish" for allowing someone to stick needles in his skin.
That changed when China reopened itself to visitors in 1972 and Loo traveled to the country in one of the first "friendship tour" groups.
Loo attended acupuncture demonstrations and offered himself as a "guinea pig," Chalsa Loo said. His interest piqued, Loo would go on to study the form extensively during future trips to China and Taiwan.
Loo initially integrated acupuncture into his dermatological practice but later found it useful for a host of other types of conditions.
"He had a strong commitment to healing pain and suffering," Chalsa Loo said. "He was very inquisitive. If something worked, he wanted to understand what about it worked."
Loo's studies led him to identify what was later dubbed the "Loo Point," an acupuncture point believed to help relieve spinal problems. He also developed a technique called acu-electro therapy, which sought to enhance the effects of traditional acupuncture with mild electrical stimulation.
Loo's enthusiasm for so-called alternative medicine was not matched by his more conventional peers, and he remained frustrated at the unwillingness of doctors and patients alike to consider the potential benefits of treatments like acupuncture.
"He was impatient with a world that didn't always see things as he saw them," Chalsa Loo said. "He acknowledged that things were changing in his direction, but he felt it was too slow."
Loo said her father accepted every opportunity to educate people about his beliefs, making countless appearances at schools, medical facilities and community gatherings.
Loo was equally generous with his musical skills. He played the organ for his Masonic lodge and piano for the Waikīkī Rotary Club. He also played accordion at a variety of functions.
Loo is survived by his sister, Beatrice Lau; wife, Amy; son, Dennis; daughters, Chalsa and Patricia; three grandsons; and one great-granddaughter.