He had been in failing health due to end-stage kidney failure and a weak heart.
Dubbed by a Honolulu newspaper headline as "the godfather of Hawaii's children," Dr. Sia led the creation of the Hawaii Healthy Start home visiting program, the Healthy and Ready to Learn Center and many other state-supported efforts to promote early child development and prevent child abuse and neglect - all while maintaining a busy private practice at his office near the old Civic Auditorium.
He helped found the Variety School for learning disabled children, still in operation near Diamond Head, and served as school physician for the Hawaii School for the Deaf and the Blind and a director of Easter Seals Hawaii. Dr. Sia also founded the Children's Protective Services Center of Oahu and was a founding member of the Hawaii Family Support (Stress) Center.
Passionate about children, especially those with special needs or at risk of neglect, Dr. Sia launched his pediatrics practice in 1958 in a small office at the corner of Kalakaua Avenue and Beretania Street. To be more accessible to patients, he invited parents to call him at home during weekday morning "welcome call" hours, a policy he maintained throughout the 38 years of his practice. In those early years, he also spent his off-hours studying prenatal, neonatal and postnatal causes of physical and mental disabilities, presenting a research paper on the subject in 1964.
At the height of his career, Dr. Sia had developed a new approach to patient care that broadened the traditional focus on acute and emergency care to include prevention, well care and the management of chronic care for those with special health needs. This would be carried out by a team of health care providers and, if needed, social workers and therapists coordinated by the family pediatrician. He called this the Medical Home concept and coined the slogan, "Every Child Deserves a Medical Home."
Working with U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye and Hawaii state governors, legislators and officials, Dr. Sia used federal and state grants to demonstrate the effectiveness of his Medical Home concept and co-wrote studies for prominent medical journals. His effort to promote similar efforts in other states culminated with the adoption of a Medical Home policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1992 that used Dr. Sia's own words that children deserved care that was "accessible, continuous, comprehensive, family-centered, coordinated, compassionate and culturally effective."
Since then, the American Medical Association and over 700 primary care and specialty care societies, major health plans, consumer groups and other organizations in the United States and Asia have adopted the Medical Home principles.
His work with Senator Inouye yielded another advance in health care delivery that is now commonplace across the country: Emergency Medical Services for Children. A chance encounter with Inouye on a flight to Washington allowed Dr. Sia to urge the creation of a National Emergency Medical Services for Children grant program to deal with childhood illnesses and crises. Inouye led efforts in Congress to enact such a program in 1984 and today, pediatric emergency services are available in all 50 states.
Dr. Sia chaired the State Task Force for Special Education for Handicapped Children in the 1960s and 1970s. He then founded of Hawaii's "Zero to Three" program, which stemmed from his work on an AAP task force that led to enactment of U.S. Public Law 99-457 - an expansion of free educational services for disabled children to include infants, toddlers and preschoolers.
His leadership posts included president of the Hawaii Medical Association; president of the AAP Hawaii Chapter from 1968-1976 and chairman of the AMA Section Council on Pediatrics from 1983-2007. He also served as an adviser to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for many years.
Dr. Sia was born in Beijing but had deep roots in the islands. His mother, Mary Sia, was born in Honolulu to parents who were the first Chinese doctors in Hawaii. She wrote cookbooks and taught Chinese cooking classes at the downtown Honolulu YWCA. His father, Richard Ho Ping Sia, was a renown infectious disease researcher in New York and Beijing. The family, including an older sister, Sylvia, and younger sister, Julia, managed to flee Beijing for Honolulu in 1939 after living under Japanese occupation for two years.
In Honolulu, Dr. Sia, whom everyone called "Cal," was a Boy Scout, a bicycle messenger during the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, a varsity basketball and baseball star at Punahou School, where he graduated in 1945, and a body surfing enthusiast at Makapu'u. He won an American Legion Boy of the Year award for sports, academics and popularity.
An Army draft notice greeted him after high school graduation, but he served out the closing months and aftermath of World War II in Hawaii. He went to Dartmouth College on the G.I. Bill, graduating in 1950, and then took classes at Columbia University while applying to both medical and business schools. The son and grandson of doctors ultimately chose to attend the Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, where he received his medical degree in 1955. He rejoined the Army as a lieutenant for an internship at a hospital in El Paso, Texas, and returned to Hawaii in 1956 for his pediatric residency at Kauikeolani Children's Hospital.
It was during his college years when, on a blind date, he met Katherine Wai Kwan Li, a student from Hong Kong who would become his wife on June 3, 1951 - his 24th birthday. They had three sons and took tremendous pride in their successes, with each graduating from an Ivy League college; the oldest, Richard, becoming a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist; Jeffrey leading the Hawaii State Bar Association and Michael serving as chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children.
Katherine died on Oct. 19, 2019.
Dr. Sia spent much of his retirement years as an adviser to health care groups in Hawaii and the mainland. He also helped improve medical services at 15 Craigside and trained its nursing staff on home-based dialysis when he became the first resident there to need it. After his first great-grandchild was born in Canada in July, he delighted in talking to the baby in weekly Zoom meetings.
Dr. Sia is survived by three sons, Richard H.P. Sia (Kathlyn) of Gambrills, Md.; Jeffrey H.K. Sia (Dominique) of Honolulu; and Dr. Michael H.T. Sia (Lea) of Honolulu; six grandchildren, Andrew W.P. Sia (Rachel) of Burlington, Ontario and Nicholas W.Y. Sia of Gambrills, Md.; Alessi W.M. Sia of Santa Clara, Calif.; Cody W.M. Sia (Kendra) of Honolulu; Marissa A. Sia of San Jose, Calif.; and Whitney K. Sia of Corvallis, Ore.; a great-grandchild, Fredrick W. Sia of Burlington, Ontario; and a sister, Julia Sia Ing, of Honolulu.
Memorial contributions may be made in lieu of flowers to the Calvin C.J. Sia, MD Endowment, Kapiolani Health Foundation, 55 Merchant Street, Suite 2600, Honolulu, HI 96813-4333.
Arrangements Provided By: Nuuanu Memorial Park & Mortuary LLC