The Heart of a Surgeon

Thomas Hoang’s long journey to Texarkana from Vietnam has not been an easy one, but the destination has been worth every mile. As a young boy, he lived with his family in the war-torn country of Vietnam

His passage to Northeast Texas and to becoming a highly regarded member of the medical community seems almost inconceivable when one looks back. When Saigon fell to the communists in 1975, Hoang became the family’s breadwinner.  His father and older brothers were taken into “re-education camps” which Hoang labels more accurately as prisons.  In 1981, his father was finally allowed to return to the family, and the young Hoang decided to leave Vietnam to seek sanctuary and opportunity elsewhere.

Along with two of his cousins, Hoang found his way to a refugee camp in the Philippines, where he awaited the required sponsorship to enter the United States.  His vision of a new life received a much-needed boost in 1982 as the sponsorship came to realization.

“My cousins and I became three of the ‘boat people’ fleeing Vietnam while sharing the same dream,” he said. Tragically, Hoang’s cousins perished along with many other freedom seekers during the 28-day voyage as food and water supplies dwindled to nothing. However, the heavyhearted traveler made his way to the state capital of Texas, Austin, where he found a job on the night shift at a bakery.

“I just wanted to assimilate myself to my new country and was willing to work hard to make a living,” he said. Although he graduated from high school in Vietnam, Hoang hadn’t given much thought to furthering his education in the United States until an incident at work made him realize his limited command of the English language would be a deterrent to his success.

“I heard about a course entitled ESL (English as a Second Language) at Austin Community College and enrolled in day classes while continuing to work at the bakery in the evenings,” Hoang explained.  “I met several foreign students and learned about student loans and other opportunities to further my education. I began to take additional classes and then enrolled at the University of Texas (UT). I tried to get into nursing school but wasn’t accepted because my English was not strong yet.”

A counselor suggested the electrical engineering track as an alternative to the nursing program, and Hoang followed the advice, enrolling in the engineering school at UT.  While he was excelling in his studies, a visit to the school library changed his life’s course once again. “I walked by a section in the library designated as preparation for MCATs,” Dr. Hoang said. “At that time, I didn’t even know what MCAT was, but out of curiosity, I decided to look into it further. As I read the materials on how to prepare for the MCAT or Medical College Admission Test, I decided ‘I can do that.’ ”

As he completed his coursework in electrical engineering, the eager student took pre-requisite medical prep courses, which delayed his graduation from UT with a B.S. in electrical engineering by a few months. After graduation, he worked in the engineering field for a few months before being accepted to Southwestern Medical School in Dallas.

Initially leaning toward internal medicine as his specialty, the medical student experienced a change of heart when he was able to hear and meet with medical pioneer Dr. Michael DeBakey, the first surgeon to perform coronary artery bypass surgery. “It was at that point when I realized where my medical career needed to focus,” Hoang said. “To this day, what I do is very rewarding. It’s hard work, but to have the opportunity to save lives and make an impact on someone’s life is a privilege.”

A graduate of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Dr. Hoang is board certified in cardiothoracic surgery. Cardiothoracic surgery involves the surgical treatment of organs inside the chest like the heart or lungs.

He has completed fellowships in minimally invasive surgery, heart and lung transplantation, cardiovascular thoracic surgery and is trained and certified in the da Vinci Robotics Surgical System. The da Vinci is a tool that utilizes advanced robotic, computer and optical technologies to assist surgeons and is less invasive than more traditional types of surgeries. This advanced technology is available at CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System.

For several years, Dr. Hoang practiced cardiovascular thoracic surgery in North Dallas and received plenty of high-profile recognitions and praise, but made the decision to move and practice medicine in the smaller of community of Texarkana.

“Here I had the opportunity to join an outstanding health care system (CHRISTUS Trinity Clinic & CHRISTUS St. Michael) and to provide care in a great community,” Dr. Hoang said.


LiveWell Cover fall 2017 REVISED