Thomas Hoang’s journey to Texarkana began from Vietnam, where he lived with his family in the war-torn country. Now a highly recognized cardiovascular thoracic surgeon, Dr. Hoang recently began calling Texarkana “home” after relocating from the Dallas/Plano, Texas area to join CHRISTUS Trinity Clinic-Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery. His passage to Northeast Texas seems almost inconceivable as the physician humbly describes the days, weeks and years that brought him to our community.
As Saigon fell to the communists in 1975, Hoang became the family’s “bread earner” when his father and older brothers were taken into “re-education camps” Hoang labels more accurately as prisons. In 1981, his father was finally allowed to return to the family, and the young Hoang decided to leave Vietnam to seek sanctuary and opportunity elsewhere.
Along with two of his cousins, Hoang found his way to a refugee camp in the Philippines, where he awaited the required sponsorship to enter the United States. His vision of a new life received a much needed boost in 1982 as the sponsorship came to realization.
“My cousins and I became three of the ‘boat people’ fleeing Vietnam while sharing the same dream,” he said. Tragically, Hoang’s cousins perished along with many other freedom seekers during the 28-day voyage as food and water supplies dwindled to nothing. However, the heavyhearted traveler made his way to Austin, TX, the origin of his sponsorship, where he found a job on the night shift at a bakery.
“I just wanted to assimilate myself to my new country and was willing to work hard to make a living,” he said. Although he graduated from high school in Vietnam, Hoang hadn’t given much thought to furthering his education in the United States until an incident at work made him realize his limited command of the English language would be a determent to his success.
“I heard about a course entitled ESL (English as a Second Language) at Austin Community College and enrolled in day classes while continuing to work at the bakery in the evenings,” Hoang explained. “I met several foreign students and learned about student loans and other opportunities to further my education. I began to take additional classes and then enrolled at the University of Texas (UT). I tried to get into nursing school but wasn’t accepted because my English was not strong yet.”
A counselor suggested the electrical engineering track as an alternative to the nursing program, and Hoang followed the advice enrolling in the engineer school at UT. While he was excelling in his studies, a visit to the school library changed his life’s course once again. “I walked by a section in the library designated as preparation for MCATs,” Dr. Hoang said. “At that time, I didn’t even know what MCAT was, but out of curiosity, I decided to look into it further. As I read the materials on how to prepare for the MCAT or Medical College Admission Test, I decided ‘I can do that.’”
As he completed his coursework in electrical engineering, the eager student took pre-requisite medical prep courses, which delayed his graduation from UT with a B.S. in electrical engineering by a few months. After graduation, he worked in the engineering field for a few months before being accepted to Southwestern Medical School, Dallas, TX.
Initially leaning toward internal medicine as his specialty, the medical student experienced a change of heart when he was able to hear and meet with medical pioneer Dr. Michael DeBakey, the first surgeon to perform coronary artery bypass surgery. “It was at that point when I realized where my medical career needed to focus,” Hoang said. “To this day, what I do is very rewarding. It’s hard work but to have the opportunity to save lives and make an impact on someone’s life is a privilege.”
A graduate of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Dr. Hoang is board certified in cardiothoracic surgery. He has completed fellowships in minimally invasive surgery, heart and lung transplantation, cardiovascular thoracic surgery and is trained and certified in the da Vinci Robotics Surgical System, available at CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System, where he performs his surgeries.
Since 1999, Dr. Hoang practiced cardiovascular thoracic surgery in the Dallas/Plano area, where he has received numerous recognitions over the years such as Best Doctor: Cardiothoracic Surgery for 12 years running in D-Magazine, Physician of the Year, Physician Hero Award for Outstanding Patient Care, and as a Texas Super Doctor, according to Texas Monthly Magazine.
With such success in a larger city, why come to Texarkana. “Here I had the opportunity to join an outstanding health care system (CHRISTUS Trinity Clinics & CHRISTUS St. Michael) and to provide care in a great community,” Dr. Hoang said. His journey has not been easy but the destination has been worth every mile.