Physician, inventor, educator, artist, writer: the multifaceted accomplishments of Stony Brook University School of Medicine alumna Naomi L. Nakao (’76) could easily fill the resumes of several people.
An honorary fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) and the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, Dr. Nakao, Associate Professor of Medicine at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine is enjoying a thriving New York City practice. In addition, she is a prolific medical inventor, an acclaimed photographer and a published author of children’s books, as well as a warm and well-grounded woman who also is a wife, a mother and a breast cancer survivor. Her life begs the question: How does one person do so much so well?
Dr. Nakao spent her early years in Israel, where her parents fled from Nazi oppression in Austria. When she was only five, her father Jakob Loew, a distinguished sculptor, introduced her to a love of art and “die weite Welt,” a phrase he used to describe “the wide world” that lay behind the Jerusalem horizon. Her first experience with illness and pain occurred as she sat at his bedside and massaged the sculptor’s painfully arthritic hands.
At age 15, Naomi and her mother left Israel for the opportunities offered in America. A year later her father died of a gastrointestinal bleed. Naomi’s mother supported her daughter and herself working as a seamstress. She followed Naomi as she went on to receive a BA from Hunter College in New York City, an MS in molecular genetics from State University of New York at Buffalo and a medical degree from Stony Brook, followed by a residency in internal medicine. Dr. Nakao completed her fellowship in gastroenterology at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, where she established her clinical practice.
Today, Dr. Nakao’s offices on Fifth Avenue overlook the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a constant reminder of her childhood and her father sculpting in his Jerusalem atelier. She married Moshe Granit, owner of an architectural woodworking company and a jazz pianist with whom she has a 23-year-old daughter, Maya.
A passionate inventor, Dr. Nakao has been working tirelessly for the past 35 years to develop her medical inventions, 82 to date, into clinical devices. Among these are the Nakao SpiderNet™ marketed by CONMED, and the Nakao SnapTrap™ marketed by Stryker. A leader in her field, she has been deeply involved in Natural Orifice Translumenal Endoscopic Surgery and its proponent organization, Natural Orifice Surgery Consortium for Assessment and Research.
During her seven-year tenure as founder and chair of the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy Invention Innovation Special Interest Group, Dr. Nakao has mentored numerous colleagues and GI fellows from all over the world in the art transforming an idea into a medical device. She says, “An inventor walks an arduous journey. Keeping your head in the clouds with your feet firmly planted on the ground is not an easy task. How do I invent? I think in images. I love interacting with children! Their minds have not yet been filled with the complexities that often clutter the minds of most adults.”
But the physician felt a strong yearning to express herself in the arts after her battle with breast cancer in 1992, and again in 2000. Three of her children’s books were published in Israel and two in the US, and her black-and-white photographs were exhibited in a one-woman show at the Stendhal Gallery in SoHo, New York.
Stony Brook, muses Dr. Nakao, “my gateway into medicine,” remains very close to her heart. She often quotes her Stony Brook mentor Dr. Harry Fritts, to her residents and fellows: “Medicine is a vocation to be cherished: practice it with all your heart and mind. Honor this precious gift that was bestowed upon you by caring for your patients with the deepest respect and love.”