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How a dream becomes a center for healing

August 03, 2017 | Kenneth Chang, MD
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Dr. Kenneth Chang in front of the new UC Irvine Health H.H. Chao Digestive Disease Center.

When I step into the light-filled lobby of the expanded and enhanced H.H. Chao Comprehensive Digestive Disease Center (CDDC) when it opens in late summer 2017, it will be the fulfillment of a long-held dream.

Ever since I was recruited in 1993 as head of gastrointestinal cancers at UC Irvine Medical Center, I’ve dreamed of a place where patients can experience healing and hope — a place where innovation fueled by compassion is the driving force behind everything we do for our patients and the community.

'We have something for you'

I want us to be able to say to a patient who’s been told there’s no other treatment for his or her condition, “That’s not true. We have something for you.

Here at the CDDC, there’s nothing we can’t do. The patient has access to the best expertise, clinical trials, latest research, and new techniques and technologies that may not be available anywhere else, as well as the teamwork of 30 physicians and 120 staff members. Now, all of that is available in a single center.

Compassion through medicine

My dream of delivering this kind of compassionate, innovative care actually goes back farther than 1993. It started while I was studying in the combined bachelor’s and medical degree program at Brown University. I experienced a crisis of direction and considered changing course to enter the ministry. Ultimately, I felt that my calling was to bring compassion to bear in helping people who are hurting through medicine.

My passion for innovation was sparked by working with three American missionary doctors in a 30-bed hospital in a rural village in Taiwan during a year-long break I took from medical school. It was inspiring to watch those doctors — who had little money and few resources — consistently think outside the box to help the villagers. They would rig up things they couldn’t afford and were able to do incredible things with very simple, basic tools.

Then and there, the seed was planted, and today it has grown into our current center.

Treating the spectrum of digestive diseases

We’re blessed at the CDDC to be able to bring leading-edge medicine to treat the entire spectrum of digestive diseases, from the most common to the most complex cases, from heartburn to cancer.

Here’s one example of how innovation leads to compassionate care. Traditional cancer diagnosis and treatment often involves a drawn-out process of imaging, biopsy, surgery and chemotherapy that can be very hard on the body and the psyche. At the CDDC, we’ve taken that entire cancer paradigm and miniaturized it so that diagnosis, staging, and treatment can be done in minimally invasive ways, on an outpatient basis, all under one roof.

Making the lethal treatable and curable

Every member of our multidisciplinary team also has an unwavering commitment to the patient, to providing every possible option to individualize treatment, and to making lethal conditions like colon, esophageal, and pancreatic cancer not only treatable but also curable. We want to wipe these cancers off the map.

So when we open the doors to the expanded center for our grand opening on Aug. 19, I’ll be saying, “Pinch me. Did we really arrive here?” And I’ll be able to answer, “Yes, the CDDC will be a beacon of light for Orange County and the world for treatment of digestive diseases. Let’s get on with it.”

Video: the new CDDC

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