A man renowned for his medical insights, and loved for his community involvement, was honored with the first-ever Chilliwack-Hope Citizenship Award at a ceremony in Chilliwack last Thursday.
Dr. Ernie Murakami, a noted and sometimes controversial expert on lyme disease, practiced medicine in Hope for almost five decades. Now retired, he remains committed to the community of Hope, where his love of sports, music and political activism has earned him the region’s respect.
The award was presented by Chilliwack-Hope MLA Gwen O’Mahony as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal presentations. While the selection committee was honing its list of deserving nominees, said O’Mahony, it decided to create an award that could be presented annually.
“It just wasn’t enough to have a one-time event,” she said.
Murakami’s career in medicine was born out of a desire to help others after watching the death of a friend and the near-death of his sister. Emerging desperately poor from a Japanese internment camp following the end of the Second World War, he was aided in pursuing his dream to study medicine. He graduated from UBC medical school in 1958 and joined a medical practice in Hope, where he has lived ever since.
Murakami is well-known in the community, not just because of a medical practice that spanned nearly half a century, but also because of his involvement. Active in the local Lions Club, he’s also an avid hockey fan and referee. He helped build the Hope Arena, the Fraser Hope Lodge, and fought for the preservation of the Fraser Canyon Hospital.
During this time, Murakami’s fascination with lyme disease grew. The disease is spread through the bite of an infected tick. However, treatment is much more complex. Indeed, as Murakami discovered, there is no consensus within the medical community on diagnosis and treatment.
Murakami established the Dr. Ernie Murakami Centre for Lyme Research, Education and Assistance. He treated thousands of people for the disease and earned recognition from around the world.
But he also drew criticism, particularly from BC College of Physicians and Surgeons, who questioned his approach.
In 2008 he retired from practicing medicine, but says he remains committed to bridging the gap in the understanding of this complex disease.
In accepting his award Thursday, Murakami also thanked the community for its continued support.
“When you get an award like this, you don’t get it for yourself,” he said. “You get it for all the people that were behind you at all these functions.”