Final Gift to Campaign for Stanford Medicine Honors Parents
Tho Nguyen spent her early childhood in her family’s rice fields in the North of Vietnam, a rural area without electricity. “I didn’t have shoes. I didn’t have sandals. I was barefoot all the time,” she says.
When she was 10 years old, her father, a farmer, fled with their family to southern Vietnam. That same year she got sick; it was the first time she learned of the existence of doctors. She thought doctors were angels, because they saved lives and eased suffering from sickness and disease. “From that point on, I wanted to become a doctor. When I was 14, I read about Marie Curie and her work with radioactivity. I wanted to be like her, so I could invent something,” says Mrs. Nguyen.
That dream for herself didn’t materialize; rather, she became a teacher. She was 31 when she arrived in the United States as a refugee with her two young sons. “Again, I found myself bare foot and empty handed. Americans took our family in and cared for us as if we were their own children. I was on food stamps and welfare for a year, and survived from the kindness of my new country and its citizens. My primary goal during that time was to make sure my two sons did well in school,” she says.
“I sat between them, one on the left and one on the right. I taught them to do quality homework, and I reviewed it. Sometimes they had to redo it. And I always made sure they did some extra work,” she recalls. Through it all, Mrs. Nguyen taught her sons to go out in life and do their best. And, together with her husband, she guided both of them through college and medical school.
My parents taught me that there are three factors that help a person to become successful: hard work, intelligence, and good training. I taught my own children to hold the same values. And Stanford trained my son well.
Today, Mrs. Nguyen’s youngest son, Kevin Minh Nguyen, is a general surgeon in Texas. He is currently using robotics in surgery to help patients receive the most precise results they can. His older brother, Steve Vuong Nguyen, attended Stanford University School of Medicine and eventually became an orthopedic surgeon. Steve has operated on thousands of patients and revolutionized the industry by inventing a new technique for knee and hip replacement that allows patients to go home the same day.
“My parents taught me that there are three factors that help a person to become successful: hard work, intelligence, and good training. I have believed in these three factors my whole life, and taught my own children to hold the same values. And Stanford trained my son well,” beams Mrs. Nguyen.
Stanford has played a critical role in Mrs. Nguyen’s life in other ways as well. Twenty years ago, Mrs. Nguyen’s mother was diagnosed with liver cancer. Her son Steve was just about to graduate from Stanford Medical School.
“Bring Grandma here,” Steve said to his mother.
At the time, the only option was to operate to remove her tumor. She was at Stanford Hospital and in cancer care for a month after her surgery. “Because of the then-cutting edge surgeries, we were able to have another two years with my mom,” remembers Mrs. Nguyen. Ten years after that, her husband was also diagnosed with liver cancer. “But, he had choices about his treatment: after the first treatment, he only had to stay overnight and came home the next day. It was then that I saw how cancer treatment had evolved in the last 10 years. It was like day and night,” says Mrs. Nguyen.
“I am just a retired child protective services worker. I was a refugee and still live frugally. But, I believe in the importance of what my gift can accomplish, both at Stanford and for the world. I am honored to gift it in my parents' names.
“I developed a passion for medical research because I have witnessed magnificent medical inventions and progress in treatments that enhance the quality of human life in so many respects. Without researchers, we wouldn’t have what we have now. And without funds for research, our scientists and doctors won’t have the means to work toward these huge, global goals of eradicating diseases like cancer.
“I pray and hope that medical research will intensify to find a cure for cancer, to bring the end to that dreadful disease for all mankind. My hope is that someday, a patient with cancer can go to the doctor’s office, do a CT scan, MRI, and blood work, and get treatment. Then, they can go home and recover in seven days, as if it were just infection. This would turn the world upside down,” she says.
To support medical research, Mrs. Nguyen made an endowed gift to the Campaign for Stanford Medicine, which officially ended on August 31, 2016. Her gift was the very last gift made to the campaign.
“I pray for the people who will use my money, with the hope that someone can discover something to improve medical treatments. May God bless whoever is able to use these funds for improvements in the field of medical research.
“My goal in giving this gift to Stanford Medical School is to begin to repay the kindness that was shown to me and to my family so many years ago when we arrived in the United States.
“I am just a retired child protective services worker. I never considered myself rich. I was a refugee and still live frugally. But, I believe in the importance of what my gift can accomplish, both at Stanford and for the world. Therefore, I am honored to gift it in my parents' names.”
Mrs. Nguyen, who lives in Florida, attended an end-of-campaign celebration on the Stanford campus on February 12 with several members of her family. The event celebrated the donors who gave to the campaign and showed the impacts their gifts are making.
When she gave her gift, Mrs. Nguyen was told her name would be placed on a wall at the new Stanford Hospital; she offered to have her parents’ names placed in her stead. “My parents’ names deserve to be on that wall. They were such wonderful parents; everything that I value, I learned from them. They taught me to always do the right thing, to stand up for what you believe in, to extend your hand to help others whenever you can. These are the biggest gifts I have received in life, and whatever honor I might have, I owe to my parents.”