Women Making REHAB History

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re spotlighting three inspiring women making history at REHAB! 

  Cheri Teranishi-Hashimoto, Therapy Director

Cheri Teranishi-Hashimoto is REHAB’s Therapy Director and founder of the iCARE Program, the first and only cancer rehabilitation program in Hawaii. Cheri is board-certified in oncologic physical therapy which is a specialty area that focuses on patients’ recovery process during and after cancer diagnosis and treatments. She saw a growing need amongst her patients for an exercise program that was specifically designed to help during this time of recovery. Cheri shares, “There weren’t any programs like this in Hawaii at the time, so with the support of my colleagues at REHAB, I just thought, ‘let’s do this!’”

Cheri went to the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) to get her certification as a cancer rehabilitation specialist with the end goal of bringing her training back home to Hawaii to start the iCARE Program at REHAB. In collaboration with the University of Hawaii Kinesiology & Rehabilitation Sciences Program, iCARE is free to participants and contributes to key research about the impact exercise can have on the side effects of cancer treatments. “We had our first cohort in 2014,” Cheri shares, “and from that cohort we collected phenomenal data that showed that patients’ side effects improved, sleep improved, their overall quality of life improved and they were healthier.” Cheri hopes that the program will continue to grow as the team navigates the post-pandemic world and has the opportunity to publish more of the data from its studies. 

Today, iCARE results continue to be overwhelmingly positive. Over 400 patients have participated in the program, and it was Cheri’s ability to see a need in our community and take the initiative to address that need that has had a lasting life-changing impact on so many.

  Pearleen CabasagSafety Administrative Specialist

Have you ever wondered whose voice makes the announcements over the intercom at REHAB? Odds are you were hearing Pearleen Cabasag! Pearleen is REHAB’s Safety Administrative Specialist and has been the “voice” of the hospital for almost 15 years. Making announcements like these are just one of the many things Pearleen is responsible for; you can also find her directing visitors from the private branch exchange (PBX) call center, overseeing the security team, fielding phone calls, working with vendors and taking care of REHAB’s staff parking. “Every day of PBX is different and I take it as a challenge,” Pearleen shares. “You get to talk to different people and it’s always something new, which to me is wonderful–it puts a smile on my face and I feel very fortunate.”

Pearleen embodies the spirit of aloha here at REHAB and strives to make everyone she interacts with feel seen and welcomed. “You only have one shot to make people feel good and set the tone for their experience at REHAB, so I always do everything with a smile. I love this place and am sincere about it, and people can feel that.”

Pearleen’s experience as a PBX operator goes back to her college days when she worked at an automotive shop. She says, “I had great mentors in college that weren’t reluctant to share their knowledge with me. I worked in the shop to help put me through college and it taught me to be calm and how to concentrate on multiple things while doing them correctly. Today, I still love multitasking!” Pearleen has come a long way since her time at the automotive shop and has spent the last 35 years in a healthcare setting. “After I started at REHAB, we’d receive calls occasionally from doctors at the previous hospital I worked at and they’d say, ‘Is that you Pearl?’ – just by hearing my voice on the phone! I was very touched that they remembered me and love that this career allows me to build relationships with people.”

When asked about one of her favorite memories at REHAB, Pearleen reflects on an impactful experience she had with a patient:

She would stop by my desk and we would talk about her day and her progress. She was from the island of Kauai and would tell me often how much she missed her family and that she didn’t think she could handle the difficulty of her therapy. So, one day I said to her, “You miss your sister and you miss your family, and you know what’s going to get you home to them? The therapy. So trust in the therapists, they work miracles and they're not going to push you more than you can handle. Believe in the professionals and more importantly, believe in yourself!” Just over a week later, she stopped by my desk and shared the good news that she was making great progress in her therapy and would be going home soon. It made me so happy I wanted to cry–I was overjoyed that she found the strength and trust to stick it out.

It’s moments like these that Pearleen relishes–seeing all the different elements of REHAB working together to tangibly change peoples’ lives. “I always say to our staff, ‘thank you for the job you do,’ because we are all pieces of this puzzle and each person’s work is important to the success of our patients,” Pearleen says.

As the voice of REHAB and so much more, Pearleen’s sincere dedication to making visitors and staff feel welcomed and cared for has left its mark on REHAB’s history. Thank you for the job YOU do, Pearleen!

  Dr. Shari Ann Oshiro, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer

For Dr. Shari Ann Oshiro, a life dedicated to helping others in need has always been her goal. From a young age, her parents instilled in her an understanding of the importance of public service and advocating for others–both in their own family and in the community. “Because of my parents’ experience working in services for the deaf and the blind, and caring for close family members affected by rheumatic heart disease and cancer, I grew up with a fair awareness of disabilities, probably more-so than most kids,” she explains. Dr. Oshiro experienced firsthand the difficulties that patients and their families face on a day to day basis, and it was these experiences that led her to want to be involved in the medical field, particularly working with people with disabilities. 

During her time in medical school, Dr. Oshiro worked with a resident doctor who spoke highly of his specialty in physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R). “I was drawn to PM&R because it is far more than just trying to prolong life–the whole point is to bring back quality of life. It is independence, function, giving people the hope of returning to their hobbies and loved ones and homes,” she says. After shadowing multiple PM&R doctors, it was a breakthrough session with a patient that sealed the deal for the specialty she wanted to pursue:

I was in the gym working with a man who had a spinal cord injury, and I got to be there for the day that he stood up for the first time. Just seeing the absolute exhilaration and hope and pride–it was incredible. Was standing for him like it had been before? No. But seeing where he had started from, and then being able to be in that upright position was such a huge emotional win for him. Being a part of the team when he reached that milestone was huge and I was like, ‘Yeah this is it, this is what I want to do. I want to help these people get better.’

After medical school, Dr. Oshiro trained at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York before returning to Oahu where she began her career at REHAB–just around the corner from where her parents had worked at Ho’opono Services for the Blind. “People will often say things like, ‘Oh it must be so depressing to see all these horrible things that have happened to people come through your hospital everyday,’ and the answer is yes, but I can’t help what has already happened–this is where these people are. What I can do is help them get better, and impact their lives going forward. That is the part we focus on as a staff, that’s the calling and why we come to work everyday,” she shares. 

As Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Oshiro is a key decision maker at REHAB. Her leadership as chair of REHAB’s COVID-19 Task Force was integral to the hospital’s ability to provide safe support for our community during the time of crisis. “Team REHAB was amazing and really banded together to get things done under the most difficult circumstances. I am so grateful for everyone here and their dedication to working hard and supporting one another.”

As Women’s History Month draws to a close and we honor the women who have made REHAB history–and all those to come–we asked Dr. Oshiro what advice she would give to anyone interested in pursuing a career in healthcare:

You’ve got to have a passion and a calling. I’m not going to lie, it is challenging, but if you go into this field for the right reasons and if you do your due diligence to get as much experience as possible along the way, you’ll know if this path is right for you. This field is so vast with so many different opportunities–if mid-way through you start to feel like something isn’t right for you, there is always a way to shift and utilize the skills and knowledge you gained, so don’t feel trapped or stuck! Follow your passion, keep true to your beliefs and persevere despite those who try to knock you down or tell you 'you can't.' Believe in yourself and you will.

We are grateful that Dr. Oshiro’s path led her here, and for her unwavering leadership that shapes the history of REHAB everyday.