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After nearly 60 years, Chinese doctor revisits internship site in Hagerstown

November 30, 2007|By JANET HEIM

The patient at Washington County Hospital had a slow pulse, septic fever, three red spots on his abdomen and a white blood count that Dr. Sophia H.Y. Chien correctly diagnosed as typhoid fever. It was 1948 and Chien, who was 25 at the time, had just started a medical internship here.

Her diagnosis impressed local doctors, who had never seen a case of the disease here. The 45-year-old patient had been exposed to the disease when he was overseas with the military.

It was stories such as this one that Chien, whose married name is Chang, shared with Dr. Robert Brooks of Washington County Hospital and Chang's family members during a visit to the hospital in late October.

Almost 60 years have passed since her internship in Hagerstown.

"It was God's blessing to me to diagnose a case of typhoid fever in my first few weeks at Washington County Hospital. It made me famous among the medical field in Hagerstown," said Chang, who had seen the symptoms before during her training in China.

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Brooks, vice president of medical affairs at Washington County Hospital and a history buff, searched to find records of Chang's time at the hospital. He found her personnel file, complete with handwritten letters, telegrams and a photograph of her, tucked away in a cardboard box in storage.

A student of Pennsylvania Medical School of St. John's University in Shanghai, Chang was taught in English and had access to American medical journals while a student there. Although Washington County Hospital has never been a teaching hospital, it advertised in the Journal of the American Medical Association for interns. Sophia Chien applied and was chosen.

She traveled 25 days by boat from Shanghai and made her way to Hagerstown, where her arrival was front-page news in The Morning Herald on Sept. 2, 1948.

Although she had already been accepted at Harvard University for postgraduate study in pediatrics and had completed a one-year rotating internship in China, Chien was unsure how up-to-date her training was by American standards and chose to do another internship.

"I found myself very up-to-date," said Chien, 84, who now lives in Silver Spring, Md.

She came to the United States with plans to complete her medical training, then return to China. But diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China were severed and her family urged her to stay in the U.S. It was 30 years before Chang, the oldest of five children, saw her family again.

Following her internship in Hagerstown, Chang went to Boston, where she completed a residency at New England Hospital for Women and Children. Then she went to Harvard University to specialize in pediatrics.

It was an international scholarship through the American Association of University Women that helped Chang pay her tuition at Harvard.

She had become good friends with Frank Lusby, a general practitioner in Hagerstown, and his wife, Frieda. Chang said Frieda Lusby was "like an American mother" to her. Frieda Lusby, an AAUW member, was the one who encouraged Chang to apply for the scholarship.

While in Boston, she met her future husband, Dr. Charlie Chang. He was chief resident in pediatrics at New England Hospital for Women and Children.

The couple married in December 1950 and after a short time in Texas, where their daughter Betty was born, they settled in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Changs were in medical practice together for 20 years and were married for 27 years before Charlie Chang's death. His wife continued the practice on her own for more than 23 years.

Chang was the first physician in her family but started a trend. Her gift for medicine has been passed on to her two daughters - Betty Chang, whose married name is also Chang, and Nancy - who are both physicians. Betty's son, Christopher Chang, Betty's husband, Henry Chang, and his brother, Richard Chang, also are doctors.

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