A rabbit, a toad or a frog. Before home pregnancy kits became widely available in the 1970s, testing involved injecting a patient’s urine into one of these animals and watching for reactions.
Public service has been a hallmark of a Punahou education since the School’s missionary founding, nurtured through the decades by a variety of programs designed to deepen students’ sense of responsibility to their community. Shaped by volunteerism, social entrepreneurship and the values of a diverse campus family, students have gone on to build lives of service that cross cultural, political and national boundaries. In these pages we profile alumni whose stories are three very different expressions of service: in the private sector of health and medicine; the governmental arena of military service; and the nonprofit world of human rights advocacy.
By Cynthia Wessendorf
A rabbit, a toad or a frog. Before home pregnancy kits became widely available in the 1970s, testing involved injecting a patient’s urine into one of these animals and watching for reactions. If a female African clawed frog laid eggs within 12 hours, for instance, the result was positive.
- Dr. Lorrin Lau describes genetic predispositions to cancer with a patient in his office in the Medical Arts Building.
These early tests were effective but expensive. Dr. H. Lorrin Lau ’50 worked with his team at Johns Hopkins University to develop affordable, home-based alternatives that were accessible to all.
“Pregnancy tests were a privilege of the rich. I wanted to know if there could be a test that’s practically free. It seemed like an impossible thing to do, but I didn’t think of impossibilities,” recalls Lau of his years in one of the nation’s foremost medical research facilities.
Breaking barriers has been his trademark at every step. In his Punahou years, Lau complemented academics with a dose of street smarts, acquired during late-night hours spent with the “tennis bums” in Kaimuki Park. Post-graduation, he merged this streetwise sensibility with a formidable intellect, winning scholarships to Harvard University and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
There, mentors Dr. Georgeanna Seegar Jones and Dr. Howard W. Jones Jr., the couple who pioneered in vitro fertilization and helped create the world’s first “test-tube baby,” persuaded him to bring his biochemistry expertise to the field of obstetrics and gynecology.
Working side by side with this renowned team, Lau forged a decades-long career as a Johns Hopkins researcher and faculty member, co-authoring academic papers and building a state-of-the-art laboratory that ran testing for landmark clinical studies on infertility, miscarriage and gender identity.
Operating a lab meant constantly applying for funding. OB-GYN was a crowded field with scant resources, yet Lau consistently received National Institutes of Health funding. In his view, winning grants was directly linked to the quality of his writing.
“You have to sell your ideas in writing. I give credit to the Punahou English Department for teaching me to write so I could successfully get grants for 20 years,” he says.
Solid writing may have brought funding success, but caring for the less fortunate has been his passion. Born of his hardscrabble early years; cultivated during lean decades as a researcher, where grant money was often channeled back to the university; and nurtured in his latter years attending to needy patients, he often says that: “The greatest privilege for anyone is to care for and take care of others.”
In his 80s, his gait slowing but his mind sharp and energy high, Lau and his wife Maureen continue to run their office in the Medical Arts Building adjacent to Thomas Square. They serve elderly women, rarely accepting payment and receiving no salary. They live a simple life, with few luxuries, much like they did in their Baltimore years raising five children.
But with office hours in the morning and research stretching far into the evening, “I don’t have time to spend money!” says Lau. “I’m too busy.”