In an exam room in Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland’s Outpatient Center, pediatric surgeon, Thomas Hui, MD, inspected Luis’ surgery scar. To Dr. Hui’s satisfaction, only a trained eye could find it.
Dr. Hui had operated on the youngster’s appendix with state-of-the-art minimally invasive technology—single incision laparoscopic surgery. Most minimally invasive surgeries require three or four small incisions. With a single incision procedure, Dr. Hui was able to choose the least invasive entry point—through Luis’ belly button—leaving behind almost no trace.
Later, Dr. Hui showed off the laparoscopic device that made Luis’ surgery possible.
“The instrument actually goes sideways,” he said, demonstrating how the head of the straight-armed tool articulates 60 degrees and more, around an arc. This allows him to access an organ and perform a procedure from almost any entry point. It works a little like modern oil drilling; the bit goes down straight, but then can turn in any direction the oil may be waiting.
“These are the types of advanced procedures we are doing on children,” Dr. Hui said. “I think we will continue to do more of them; I think they’re great.”
Dr. Hui is Children’s Hospital’s newest pediatric surgeon, having joined the hospital’s surgery team in 2008. He previously served as a pediatric surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
A native of Hong Kong, Dr. Hui was sent, at age 11, to a private school in Ipswich, England, by parents who believed in the importance of education. At 17, his family emigrated to Vancouver, Canada, where he could continue his education.
Taking one more year of high school in Canada didn’t make any sense to the future Dr. Hui, so he enrolled in a college in Vancouver instead. After a very successful year, he was admitted to the University of British Colombia (UBC). He never officially graduated from high school.
At UBC, Dr. Hui studied pharmacology, and did well enough in his studies and boards to win early admittance to UBC School of Medicine. Because of his accelerated track, he never earned an undergraduate degree, either. His first official degree was his MD.
But Dr. Hui’s medical training and education were only beginning. He followed med school with a residency in Canada, and stints as a family practice and Emergency Room physician.
“The Canadian system is different,” he said. “They let general practice physicians work in ERs.”
Dr. Hui then did a five-year general surgical residency at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he received his advanced laparoscopic and minimally invasive surgical training. His stint at Cedars-Sinai included a good deal of research, including working on a team developing and testing artificial livers.
But general surgery didn’t quite suit Dr. Hui.
“Most general surgeon’s sub-specialize, one does liver surgery, one does colon surgery,” he said. “Pediatric surgeons take care of everything; that attracted me.”
He also enjoyed working with children. “Children have a tremendous ability to heal. It’s pretty gratifying; even with cancer, a lot of cancers in kids are treatable.”
So Dr. Hui headed back to Canada for a two-year pediatric surgical residency at McGill University and the Montreal Children’s Hospital.
Following that, he returned to Cedars-Sinai where he served as an attending pediatric surgeon.
Along the way, Dr. Hui met Sunghoon Kim, MD, pediatric surgeon at Children’s Hospital Oakland. Dr. Kim invited Dr. Hui to consider joining Children’s surgery team. Dr. Hui more than considered it, he joined.
Children’s provides Dr. Hui an opportunity to “take care of children of all backgrounds and with many different diseases,” he said. He appreciates the diverse patient base, and the variety of types of surgeries he gets to perform.
In the end, Dr. Hui thinks pediatric surgery was a “good choice” for him. “I think so, I think it fits, I enjoy what I do,” he said. “It’s hard work, I can see how some people think it’s too much work, with all the extra years of training, it’s a long road.”
“I do derive joy and satisfaction from what I do.”
A Canadian citizen, Dr. Hui speaks English, French and Chinese. He lives in the East Bay with his wife, a pharmacist, and two daughters, a 3-year old and an 8-month old. He plays tennis and enjoys movies, especially action flicks. He has traveled extensively, though with a young family, that has been curtailed.