The following is excerpted from The Calling: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and the Future of Healthcare
We’re often asked if we had racial taunts or slurs hurled at us. The answer is “Yes.” But we didn’t really identify as Chinese because our parents had such a bad experience with communism in China. We never fit in at our Chinese church because we were so big, especially compared to all the other Chinese kids. We would get stares as if we were aliens. In fact, neither of our parents is especially big. As kids, we fantasized that for Dad’s doctoral thesis in bioengineering, he had run some experiments with growth hormones and we were his dissertation: “Look what I did! I can make big Chinese boys!”
When Chris and Stephanie’s son James was around eight years old, Chris came home from work one day to a troubled household. Stephanie greeted him at the door.
“We’ve had a very rough day today, Chris,” she started. “James was bullied at school.”
Immediately Chris reverted to his teenage self. All that anger, passion, and sense of justice rose up inside him.
“What?” Chris said. “I hate bullies! Were they bigger kids?” “Yeah, they were bigger kids.”
Chris went to James’s room to hear the whole story. “Hey, son, Mom told me what happened today,” he started.
“Yeah, these kids were making fun of me,” James said.“I know. That really stinks,” said Chris. “I was the only Chinese kid in my grade at my school. I got picked on nonstop. So what happened next?”
“Well, they kept picking on me,” said James.
“Yeah, yeah. But then—did they punch you in the face?”
“No, they were just making fun of me.”
“Come on, son,” Chris said. “You can tell me. I’m your dad. What else did they do? Did they jump you in the bathroom?”
“Did they gut punch you when no one was looking?” “No.”
“But they pushed you into the lockers, right?”
“No, Dad,” said James. “They just picked on me. Those big kids made fun of me.”
Chris went back down to Stephanie.
“Steph, I was about to go to town on some parents because of what their kids did to our son,” he said. “And listen, I get it. It’s never good to be made fun of. Nobody likes it. But what happened to James at school today is not what I call bullying. I got jumped in the bathroom, kicked in the hall, and punched in the face and the gut. That is bullying!”
Of course, the culture has changed dramatically since we were kids. Today what James experienced is the definition of bullying. But back when we were growing up, Chris’s temperament and size discouraged anyone from messing with Chris Chen’s younger brother.
We did have racial taunts and slurs thrown at us. Chris’s nickname in school was Chino, and Gordon inherited that name after Chris graduated. But we never paid any attention to it. Neither of us ever focused on being a victim; we were always too busy going after the prize! We put every effort into attacking life, using all the vigor we had to pursue whatever goal was immediately in front of us. Being called a name would never stop us or slow us down. Our response? Whatever.
A racial taunt or slur was never an excuse or a defense mechanism that either one of us would allow ourselves to use.
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A CT scan revealed Dr. James Chen, a Miami physician, had a cancerous, inoperable, tumor behind his nose. The prognosis was bleak. Dr. Chen had eight weeks to live.
Dr. Chen and his sons, Chris and Gordon, looked for a miracle. Chris was completing a cardiology fellowship. Gordon was finishing medical school. They knew what they were up against. Even still, they were shocked when a local oncologist told them, “The first available appointment is in six weeks.”
James and his sons were suddenly patients, forced to look at the healthcare system from the other end of the stethoscope. They didn’t like what they saw—expensive, uncoordinated, and ineffective care. At one point James asked his sons, “If a family of doctors with connections can’t navigate this system, what chance do my patients have?”
The Chens found their calling. Together with James’ wife Mary, Chris’s wife Stephanie (an attorney), and Gordon’s wife Jessica (another doctor) they created ChenMed, a physician-led company that serves the underserved. ChenMed puts their patients from forgotten communities first and focuses on accountable, compassionate care that improves health.
In The Calling, Chris and Gordon share how the family succeeded beyond their wildest expectations through a combination of determination, data, family, and faith. They turned what could have been a tragedy into an opportunity that will revolutionize healthcare delivery for years to come. The Calling will give you hope.
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