Dentist caps off career by giving back

2019-03-06 11:06:30China Daily Editor : Mo Hong'e ECNS App Download

An 81-year-old has over the past five decades lived each of his life practicing the well-known Chinese saying: "A drop of water given in need shall be returned with a bursting spring."

Colin Wong, on Friday received a lifetime achievement award from his alma mater the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry at the University of the Pacific in San Francisco.

Born in Guangzhou and raised in Hong Kong, Wong came to the United States in the 1960s as an international student at the University of California, Berkeley.

"Back then, the anti-Chinese sentiment was strong. The campus was full of discrimination," Wong said, calling his time in Berkeley "hard".

From there, Wong went to the University of the Pacific, where "life was not easy, either", because his meager stipend would often run out.

"My classmates loaned me money" to continue and several professors advised him to apply for scholarships and "in four years, we have lifelong friends," Wong said.

When Wong decided to start his own private practice after graduation, he received assistance, financially and spiritually, from his American mentor and friends.

"My restorative dental clinic in Mill Valley, California, was pretty successful during my 35 years of practice," Wong said, adding that he retired in 2000 and started a new chapter in his life, one built around expressing his gratitude and paying back the kindness shown to him.

Wong joined the Alliance for Smiles (AfS), a treatment program for disadvantaged children who suffer from cleft palate, volunteering there as vice-president.

"It's a position that requires troubleshooting and negotiating skills, and liaising with China partners and hospitals around the clock," Wong said.

A group of disorders characterized by openings in the lips or roof of the mouth that extend into the nose, cleft lip and palate can cause infant feeding problems, speech and hearing deficiencies and frequent ear infections.

The six AfS founders, most of them professional dentists, used their collective knowledge to create two types of programs: one to send medical teams to sites to perform corrective surgery; and a second to establish treatment centers so the US protocol of cleft treatment could be replicated.

China was chosen as the first country to receive an AfS medical team, Wong recalled. "The need for treatment is huge - one in 350 children was born annually with the cleft anomaly."

Since then, he has been involved with more than 50 medical missions to China, acting as a middleman and putting his knowledge of China to work.

More than 4,000 children to date have been treated through the alliance's missions to China, and the numbers keep growing, said Wong.

The US-based organization has expanded its practice from northeastern to southwestern China to replicate American standards of treatment.

"Currently, we have helped establish five treatment centers with government agencies and local partners," Wong said.

Wong has also contributed much of his time to the University of the Pacific dental school by serving on its admissions committee, foundation and alumni association.

With the school's senior administrators, Wong has traveled extensively in China helping to launch student exchange programs and strengthen China-US discussions of industry trends and best practices in dental education.

The visits have included meetings with students, faculty, and administrators at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, Wenzhou Medical College in Wenzhou and other institutions.

"Oral health education, research and the growing body of knowledge in the biomedical sciences are highly valued international commodities," said University of the Pacific dental school dean Nader Nadershahi.

Colin Wong's wife Sebrina said she couldn't count how many times the couple has opened their house to host visiting Chinese professionals. "Colin loves to take Chinese guests out for dining and sightseeing," she said. "He believes that it's important to let them feel at home."

"Colin taught us to value education and equity, honor, respect and philanthropy," said Arthur Dugoni, the former dean of the dentistry school who appeared at the award ceremony. "Colin has made a difference to thousands of lives here and in China, and other places in the world."

For his part, Wong called the lifetime achievement award something of an overstatement. "I simply remember the verse: 'We don't forget the one who dug the well when drinking water'," he said.

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