July 2, 2015 | by Laurel DiGangi
The childhood journal of Kevin Chan, M.D., foreshadowed his future: At the tender age of 6, he wrote that he wanted to be a surgeon when he grew up. “I liked the idea of fixing broken arms and legs,” Chan said. “Back then, those were the procedures I could relate to.”
Although his passion for medicine never waned, Chan eventually chose a new specialty. Today he is head of reconstructive urology and a clinical associate professor of surgery at City of Hope, specializing in urology and urologic oncology.
Chan’s interest in urology was launched soon after he entered USC medical school and met Donald G. Skinner, M.D., its urology chair. “He did these amazingly elegant urologic surgeries, and afterward the patients were doing very well,” Chan said. “I was immediately drawn to urology.”
In particular, Chan was inspired by the neobladder procedure pioneered by Skinner. In this complex surgery, a new bladder is created out of intestine, and the kidneys are connected to this pouch, which is connected to the urethra, or as Chan explains to his patients, “the original plumbing.”
According to Chan, if a patient’s bladder needs to be removed, most urologists offer only an “incontinent diversion,” in which the urine drains into an external bag.
However, City of Hope has a much higher percentage of “continent diversions,” either the neobladder or an Indiana pouch, an internal pouch fashioned from intestine that allows the patient to drain urine by passing a tube through a small opening in the abdomen, called a stoma. No drainage bag is necessary.
At City of Hope, 60 percent of patients who need urinary diversions receive continent pouches, compared to 10 percent nationwide,” Chan said.
Family time: an “active togetherness”
Because urinary diversion is a complex surgery with frequent complications, Chan usually has one or more patients in the hospital, and admits that he has to “compartmentalize” his life. His favorite way to de-stress is by spending quality time with his family: his wife, Ophelia, an allergist, his 10-year-old son and his two daughters, ages 12 and 6.
“My biggest focus, outside of work, is my kids,” Chan said. “All my hobbies relate to them.” Chan’s oldest daughter and son are both pitchers who respectively play on club softball and baseball teams, and he manages to spend time every day playing catcher or practicing drills with them.
He also finds spending time with his son’s Boy Scout troop particularly fulfilling.
“I gave a presentation about basic car care to the scouts,” he said, “and later two 10-year-olds changed their mom’s tire. I was so proud.”
A favorite family activity is UCLA football games, and when his kids’ sports tournaments involve travel, they can become mini-vacations. Chan also enjoys the twice-yearly ski trips he takes with Ophelia and his children. “I like ski trips because they keep us together as a family without any outside influences,” he said. “It’s an active togetherness.”
A familial passion
Chan’s mother, a Ph.D. in biostatistics, originally inspired him to pursue medicine, but not through direct encouragement. “I could see how passionate she was about her work,” he said, “And I wanted to find that same passion.”
In fact, Chan provided his younger siblings with this advice: “You want to wake up each morning and say, ‘I can’t believe I get paid to do this.’ And that’s how I feel about my job.”
Two of Chan’s children already share their father’s early interest in medicine. “My daughter says she wants to be an allergist, and my son wants to be a urologist so he can help people with cancer,” he said. “Even though we don’t talk about that kind of stuff.”
Perhaps he doesn’t need to — because the fulfillment he receives from his work is obvious.
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