Opportunity. That’s what this country means to Dr. Kai-Fu Chow, who has served LaBelle’s medical needs since 1981.
Born in a crushingly poor small town in China, Dr. Chow was 15 when he emigrated to Miami with his parents and brothers. His grandparents had preceded them to the US and had become American citizens.
In China his father had owned a shoe heel factory and his mother was a nurse. After such unusual success in their homeland, when they came to America, they had to make a living by opening a small grocery store.
In 1966 the family applied for green cards so they could work in their chosen land. All the boys had to get up and go to the wholesale market early every morning to purchase the day’s stock, then go back to the store and stock shelves and price items before school. When their school day was over, they continued to work the store.
Dr. Chow recalls his amazement when he first came to this country at the free public education, including 15-cent school lunches and free books. A solid education was available for everyone. All you had to do was apply yourself.
This was opportunity that did not exist in his old world.
Building on their hard work, the family later started a restaurant where the boys were also busy bussing tables, waiting tables, cooking and so on.
His years working at the family market and restaurant were tough, but he is grateful for them because he gained a good work ethic and learned the value of hard work.
“I realized what hard work was,” he said, “and came to appreciate what my parents gave up for us.”
As a boy in China he and his friends would dream of one day inventing some wonderful thing – maybe even winning a Nobel Prize - not that any of them really understood what that was. They just knew it was the best you could do. That was their goal.
Toiling in the grocery store and restaurant, the family was doing all right, but not nearly well enough to send their boys to college.
But, this amazing new country provided still more opportunity, in the form of scholarships. Dr. Chow made the most of his public education; graduated from the University of Miami and went to study medicine in Maryland. Courtesy of the National Health Service Corps program, which provides an education in return for professional services to underserved communities, he became a doctor in internal medicine and found his future in caring for the people of LaBelle.
In 1981 he set up his practice here. Thirty-six years ago he chose LaBelle – not knowing what to expect.
Looking back he says LaBelle has really been a blessing for him. He realizes that his experience here has been totally different from that of a doctor in Fort Myers. “People appreciate me here,” he notes.
He feels his service to LaBelle is all part of paying back this country for the opportunity it afforded him as a young immigrant.
These days he is reflecting on the tremendous changes in medicine over almost four decades. As a practitioner of internal medicine, he has watched the profession move toward specialization and it does not please him.
More legality issues crept in as his practice became more limited – so many more referrals to specialists; so much dependence on computers; so much less human interaction.
To Dr. Chow’s way of thinking, computers have had a limiting affect on the human touch of medicine, making it increasingly more impersonal. He added, “I’ve never gotten used to it.”
In truth, Dr. Chow is a little apprehensive about what to do when he finally hangs up his stethoscope for the last time.
At the top of his thoughts are his elderly parents, who are in a nursing home. They’re in their early 90s and he feels the need to spend more time with them. He will also be giving up his position as medical director at Oakbrook Nursing Home.
He’ll also certainly be spending more time with his lovely wife, Reiko, who remains the concert master for the Southwest Florida Symphony in Fort Myers after many years. LaBelle folks will remember the incredible concert events she brought here for several years. Her efforts provided locals with the opportunity to enjoy some much-appreciated quality classical music in our own back yard.
Perhaps best of all, Dr. Chow and Reiko will surely be getting to know their first grandchild better – a boy. His father, the Chows’ eldest son, David, is a doctor in San Francisco, working with neuroreceptors.
Their second son has a video game design company and the youngest has his heart set on becoming an actor. This amazing chain of success began with the hard work of immigrants making the most of American opportunity.
Dr. Chow wants to express his appreciation for the “invaluable experience” his patients and the area have provided him. “You have treated me so well. I couldn’t ask for anything better,” he said.
He also wants to point out the importance of social programs like the one he credits for allowing him to get his medical degree. He can attest that these programs not only provide for individuals, but also yield dividends to communities for decades.
More opportunity for those willing to invest in themselves and this country.
A self-declared “putterer,” Dr. Chow will have lots of time to do home projects like putting an addition on his home.
He is also an avid tennis player, so he’s looking forward to a lot more time on the court.
Coming to this country as he did as a young boy - with so little except his family – Dr. Chow discovered opportunity – part of the greatness that is America. In this next phase of his life, he looks forward to even more opportunity.
There will be a going away party for him at the office on April 26 from 2 – 5 p.m. The staff would like to welcome the community to say their goodbyes.