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Saturday, Dec. 12, 2009

Doctor who treats body and soul

Andrew Wong helps patients deal with issues of motivation and social well-being


Special to The Japan Times

Beauty is not only skin deep, according to Dr. Andrew Wong. With more than 30 years of experience in the medical world, Wong observes firsthand how the stresses and preoccupations of modern society adversely affect our aging processes and overall health. To Wong, mind and body can be united to achieve a quiet, but deep, beauty of soul.

News photo
Dr. Andrew Wong speaks at his office in Tokyo's Roppongi. KRIS KOSAKA PHOTO

Wong came to Japan from Hong Kong in 1972, on a Rotary International Scholarship to study medicine. After graduating from Gifu University's faculty of medicine, he went on to receive his Ph.D. in orthopedic oncology on an education ministry scholarship.

As a young surgeon, Wong treated children with cancer and patients with disabilities. He soon became interested in reconstructive surgery. As Wong explains: "Sarcoma in little children — I saw a lot of sadness in this field, 20 years ago. The most up-to-date treatment at that time was amputations and chemotherapy, and even with those treatments, most children did not live so long."

Wong became determined to make the remaining years peaceful and happy for these children. He decided to focus his skill on plastic surgery. "Orthopedic surgery is not reconstructive, so why not spend time elsewhere to learn a specialty that can correct as much as possible the defects of the operation? Amputations leave a big defect — why not reconstruct something similar, so for the rest of their life, they may live better?"

With his background in nanotechnology, Wong already possessed the outlook of a scientist and researcher, capable of creating and manipulating new technologies. Wong therefore continued studying and gaining experience, training as a plastic reconstructive surgeon, specializing in trauma.

Unknown to Wong at the time, this shift to reconstructive surgery would someday engender a shift in his life's focus. "At that time, the cutting edge of plastic surgery was in cosmetic surgery. I learned most of the techniques, traveled to many different countries to learn more."

Wong realized, in cancer or cosmetic procedures or anti-aging procedures or anywhere in the body, there is always a kind of underlying stress in the spirit or mind affecting or exacerbating the body's symptoms.

Wong used his scientific training to tackle these invisible symptoms as well. The result, started more than 25 years ago, Wong now calls "motivational medical therapy." Using advances in both medicine and science, Wong established a laboratory in Canada and worked to develop a new drug delivery system, using cutting-edge nanotechnological techniques.

One important project he started in 2006 focuses on pheromones. As Wong explains, "It has now been documented that 'odorless smell' can influence mood, memory, emotions, mate choice, the immune system and the endocrine system (hormones). We can communicate by this so-called sixth sense without even knowing it. In fact, the sense of smell could be said to be at the mind-body interface."

Research supports pheromones as activating positive changes in the areas of the brain related to cognitive skills and emotional well-being. The use of pheromonal advances enabled Wong to develop his own line of products, designed to increase motivation and social well-being.

Wong finally decided he could best help others by opening his own clinic. In 1989, he established the Age Management Medical and Surgical Clinic in Tokyo's Roppongi district.

"I once worked only with very sick people, physically. I am now dealing with people who are not so unhealthy physically, but socially — they could become quite ill without a positive outlook and social interaction." Wong helps them achieve that.

In addition to his duties at the clinic, Wong has spent the last 15 years traveling to other countries to offer his medical expertise in humanitarian efforts. "Of course, we do need money to complete any kind of project. You do need that person to write the check, but I myself would rather spend my own time, just go and work with the people."

Wong has traveled to more than 70 countries in 15 years, wherever his skills were needed. "Once you go once or twice, they know you, that doctor who will not say no — the requests pour in," he says. At one time, Wong was traveling overseas 10 times a year, but that pace has slowed, due to commitments at the clinic and decreased opportunities with the economic downturn.

Wong credits his upbringing and unique family history for his strong sense of social obligation. "Our family history gave us a lot of influence," he explains.

"My grandfather started the first casino in Macau, and then he started pawnshops. The first store of my grandfather became a museum in Macau. It has been there over 150 years. He was a great merchant." Wong pauses and smiles. "He also did a lot of business in opium. My grandfather passed away in 1933, so he is like the Al Capone of China. We were never allowed to go into a casino, of course. We were not even allowed to play mah-jongg."

As the first son of the fifth wife, Wong's father raised his own family with strict discipline, encouraging the children to find a trade in order to give back to society. "My father always told us, 'If you really want to help people, learn a trade, learn an intelligence that cannot be stolen away.' "

Wong admits all of what he knows about his grandfather is secondhand, from his many relatives or newspaper articles and reports. His grandfather died when Wong's father was only a boy. Still, the history and strength of the family lingers, and Wong proudly shows a photo of his family's ancestral tomb in Guangzhou, a beautiful, spacious land preserved by the Chinese government.

Wong makes time in his busy schedule to travel home to Hong Kong at least twice a year, and his international outlook and commitment to the world is reflected in his childhood home, where Wong grew up with various nationalities and cultures. "I had many Japanese friends when I was a little boy, and I thought, this is the place for my future."

With his international upbringing and travel, Wong speaks five languages well, and admits he still finds beauty in learning a new language.

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but Wong seems determined to find beauty in the satisfied smiles of his patients, all over the world.



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