Dr. Cheng huan-chen died last year after an epic 91 years. His improbable life began the winter of 1922 in frigid northern manchuria where he was the 13th child born into an impoverished rural family of landless laborers. eight of the thirteen children died before reaching adulthood. #13 was lucky to survive. and despite monumental odds, He thrived.
Cheng huan-chen’s illiterate mother sought salvation for him through education…non-existent anywhere close. the entire extended family pooled every resource and sent him away to earn a place in a distant city school. And so, around age 10, his lifelong journey began.
He proved gifted beyond all expectation and dreamed of studying the new sciences to which he was exposed, but settled for medicine as it was the only science Chinese were not prohibited from studying by the Japanese who had invaded and occupied the country.
Dr. cheng received his M.D. on the eve of communist control and continued his journey via post-War Japan, earning a Ph.D. along the way, but his ambition had now become to train in america and become a surgeon.
He arrived in Phoenix in 1954, to learn english and the ways of the west. two years later, the man who had been denied a scientific career by Japanese discrimination in his home country, now became a surgical resident at the medical school of Howard university in Washington d.c., one of america’s foremost black educational institutions!
There, his ambitions were stoked further with a fellowship in thoracic surgery, such that the new goal became cardiovascular surgery which was the cutting edge of medicine at the time.
In the early 1960’s Dr.cheng sought an opportunity to serve, and returned to china to become a professor of medicine and establish the 1st open heart surgery facility in beijing. Unfortunately, political turmoil erupted by way of the cultural revolution and by the mid-1970’s Dr.cheng found his way back to the u.s. where he remained in private practice until his passing.
this is not the story cheng huan-chen himself would have told. his version would have been all about the patients – most especially the poor – he served and saved everywhere,and the desperate, valiant struggles of his mother that made it all possible.