When Douglas Inouye ’91 found himself hospitalized with COVID-19 in August of 2020, he was reminded of the support he had received from BC Law School three decades earlier as a 2L fighting pneumonia during finals week.
“The support, care, and compassion I received for COVID at the hospital reminds me of the support, care, and compassion I received from BC Law,” said Inouye. He was preparing to take his final tax law exam when he wound up in the hospital with pneumonia, barely able to breathe.
Despite his condition, his hard-headedness kept him from asking for an extension. It wasn’t until a classmate reached out to Dean for Students R. Lisa DiLuna ’82 on his behalf, that Inouye received a reprieve. “Dean DiLuna calls me and says, ‘Young man, what the hell do you think you’re doing? You have pneumonia and you’re going to take the tax test?’”
That was all the permission he needed. “No,” he told her, thankfully accepting the extension she offered.
Inouye said he was surprised that his classmates and professors cared so much because, from what he knew of other law schools, relationships were more cutthroat, and expectations were that you would survive on your own.
“I could go on and on about how good they were to everyone who attended BC Law,” said Inouye. “It creates a culture that supports camaraderie amongst the students, at least that’s what I felt, and it has stuck with me to this day. I’m glad that hasn’t changed.”
Fast forward thirty years into 2020 and Inouye, now corporate counsel and director of contract services with Queen’s Health Systems in Hawaii, found himself in a similar situation: bedridden in a hospital as his body struggled to fight COVID-19 and double pneumonia.
The illness came as a shock to Inouye. He was in the best shape of his life. He had been regularly competing in marathons, triathlons, and ironman races in Hawaii, Japan, and across the US mainland. As someone who never had the chance to get vaccinated—vaccines were not yet available when he contracted the virus—he said he feels a responsibility to share his story in the hope that it will inspire people who are against getting vaccinated to rethink their stance.
“There was nothing to indicate that I’d be susceptible,” said Inouye. What started as sniffles and a slight fever led to an experience that he will never forget. “I woke up in the middle of the night, and when I sat up, I couldn’t breathe,” he said. “It was like I was under a sheet of water, and I kept trying to breathe and passed out.”
Later, when he was recovering, he received a call from a friend and fellow runner. The friend thought if you were healthy and in good shape you didn’t have to get vaccinated or worry about masking up, but after hearing what Inouye was going through, he hung up the phone and scheduled an appointment to get vaccinated. Inouye was gratified.
In November of 2021 Inouye ran the New York City Marathon, his first full marathon since getting sick in 2020. He said the road to recovery over that span of time was one of the toughest challenges he’s ever faced. One week after leaving the hospital, Inouye couldn’t walk half a block without stopping to catch his breath. After week three, he was able to walk two to three blocks. At the one-month mark he could finally jog, but only about two miles. One month later he could run four miles, and at six months he ran a 10k, but at a much slower pace than usual. One year after leaving the hospital, Inouye completed in another 10k and then a half marathon, and finally, after nearly two years, Inouye finished the New York City Marathon.
Even then, there was a moment around the 20-mile mark when he was stunned to find he had trouble breathing. “I almost had to literally stop and tell myself to breathe and take deep breaths,” he said.
“The same determination that got me through law school has seen me through this ordeal,” said Inouye, who continues to progress. He finished a half marathon in Honolulu on April 10, is planning to compete in a half ironman race in June, and has his sights set on running the Berlin Marathon in September and the London Marathon one week later, in October.
“While I understand that getting vaccinated, or not, is a personal decision—and I respect that decision—I hope that sharing this experience might convince at least one more BC Law alum or someone they know to get vaccinated,” said Inouye. “As long as you’re living and breathing, don’t take that for granted.”