Wednesday June 6, 2012
Datuk Dr Khoo Kah Lin's contribution to society
The example set by a doctor inspired a child to navigate the arduous path of medicine, and achieving his life’s ambition of giving back to society along the way.
HE is a man who has achieved much in his field of work, cardiology. With almost half a century’s worth of experiences to draw on, he continues to work tirelessly towards the betterment of society.
Datuk Dr Khoo Kah Lin, director of Heart Foundation of Malaysia (YJM) and past president of the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), was recently conferred with not one, but two, Gold Medal awards. The first award from the Rotary Club of Malaysia was the Rotary Research Gold Medal Award. This award was conferred to him in honour of his outstanding research and development work in the field of familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) by the DYMM Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah Alhaj, who is also the Royal Patron of the Rotary Club of Kuala Lumpur DiRaja.
FH is a hereditary disease that causes patients to suffer severely elevated cholesterol levels that are unresponsive to diet, exercise and medicine.
More recently, he received an award from the Malaysian Medical Association, which is the Gold Medal of the Malaysian Medical Association for Outstanding Person, during their AGM in Sungai Petani, Kedah.
This award was conferred to him in light of his many contributions to the medical community and to the general public.
His achievements are not surprising, considering his philosophy of giving his best in everything he does. “If you want to do something, make sure you do it well. It’s only worth doing if you excel,” he advised.
Khoo, who hails from Penang, was born a few days shy of Christmas in 1938. He lived his early years in a quiet community where all the neighbours knew each other, and there was a strong sense of community.
In his early years, he was quite a sickly child. Back then, public transportation was nearly non-existent, and since his father was out working, his mother had to care for him and his siblings as best she could.
Unfortunately, the nearest clinic was quite far away and without access to a car, his mother had no way of getting him to the clinic whenever he was ill.
However, he was lucky as there was a doctor who frequently made house-calls to the families in the neighbourhood. What truly touched him was the fact that the doctor frequently did not accept payment for treating him as his family was not always able to afford to pay for his treatments, and this subsequently left a deep impression on the young Khoo.
This early encounter was the main driving force behind his own efforts at contributing back to society in the form of establishing and setting up the Sau Seng Lum Dialysis Centre in Puchong. This dialysis centre provides the requisite LDL-apheresis treatment needed by patients who suffer from FH for free.
He and his team often review each patient before ascertaining if they are eligible for the free treatment at the dialysis centre.
How it started
His interest in FH was sparked by the work he did while working on his doctorate thesis for the National University of Singapore (NUS). What prompted him to focus on this topic was a paper published in the New England Journal by three prominent doctors from Europe who claimed that FH only existed in European countries.
As a cardiologist, he had seen enough patients to know that this was blatantly untrue. The highly erroneous claims only served to fuel his desire to get the truth out.
At this point in time, he was working full time, yet because of his passion and commitment, he pushed himself for five years to complete his doctorate thesis on certain lipid abnormalities in Peninsular Malaysia. This was based on a study of 117 families that had FH. What made his task more challenging was the fact that some of the families consisted of extended families which had as many as 50 members.
As a result of his hard work, he was able to publish a compelling thesis on FH that demonstrated how FH could be inherited based on Mendelian inheritance theory.
It was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that FH was not confined to European countries only, but rather that it was caused by autosomal dominant genes which do not differentiate between the sexes.
He received his Doctorate of Medicine in 1983 from the National University of Singapore, 20 years after obtaining his Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the same university in 1963.
He is currently the only practising cardiologist in Malaysia who has a doctorate in lipids from NUS.
Dr Khoo gives freely of his own time and money for the FH cause. He takes personal responsibility for setting up the equipment and taking care of the patients.
He takes it a step further by going as far as doing his own legwork in identifying and securing donations from corporate sponsors. All this is done in order to keep the cost of treatment for deserving patients free.
The cost for LDL apheresis is quite substantial, especially as the patients need to have it done on a fortnightly basis.
One way of keeping himself constantly fuelled and ready for any challenges is by keeping himself physically fit. He loves taking walks, and can often be seen walking from his office to nearby restaurants for his meals.
His normal morning routine is to get up at five and take a morning walk before heading over to the hospital where he checks on his patients and does a daily review of their files; he follows up with a walk around the hospital to visit his patients.
“I love taking the time to visit them in the morning as it is usually quieter, so I have more time to talk to them in a more informal setting.”
After his morning hospital visit, he goes to his clinic to start his day.
Other than his morning walks, he meets with a few friends at the Chin Woo Stadium twice a week, and they would practise Tai Chi for at least half an hour before heading home for a quick shower, followed by breakfast at the mamak stall near his office.
“Yes, I do my best to live a healthy lifestyle; after all, I can’t very well be telling my patients to exercise if I don’t do it myself. Of course, I’m no monk; I do have my vices, and the one I most dearly love to indulge in is a cup of affogato.* That’s something I can never say no to,” he laughs.
He also admits to being a karaoke enthusiast, and sets aside some time from his hectic schedule for his weekly karaoke lessons from a private tutor. “In fact, it’s something that we like to do after some of our less formal Continued Medical Education (CME) sessions. Once we are done with the serious discussions or talks, we find it soothing to have a short karaoke session. It helps us relax, and is a great way for us to bond!”
“I feel that my life has been blessed; throughout my life, I have often met people who have gone out of their way to help me, and whenever I can, I try to do the same. It is always better to give than to receive, so if you can, please make it a point to do some good every chance you get.”
An affogato is a coffee-based beverage that takes the form of a scoop of vanilla gelato or ice cream topped with a shot of hot espresso.