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Sam Mihara

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Dr. Yeng



When Yeng Her’s mother’s kidneys failed, she wanted to try herbs and shaman rituals. But a Madison doctor said that without dialysis, she would die.

Her was 16, a junior at Memorial High School, the oldest of four children born in a refugee camp. As he fought to keep his mother alive, he struggled to translate language and culture between his Hmong family and Western medical providers.

“I felt powerless,” he said. “That lit a fire inside of me to go into medicine and try to bridge these gaps.”

 

Her is believed to be the first Hmong-American to get an M.D.-Ph.D., after receiving the degrees last month at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

He plans to return next year to UW-Madison, where he got his bachelor’s degree, to do a residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation at UW Health. He will also pursue research on using stem cells to treat chronic pain.

Her became interested in helping people regain function after spending much of his childhood at Hmong refugee camps in Thailand. He was surrounded by people injured during the Vietnam War, in which the United States recruited Hmong soldiers, including Her’s father, to fight communist forces. The wounded included his uncle, who was paralyzed on one side of his body.

“He didn’t really get the treatment he needed at the camp,” Her said. “That had a pretty profound effect on me.”

Now 33 and married, with two children, Her is the first Hmong-American to get a medical degree and a doctor of philosophy degree, according to Victor Yang, who has tracked doctoral degrees among Hmong-Americans since 1985. Yang records the degrees in the blog Hmong St. Paul.

The National Institutes of Health and the Association of American Medical Colleges said they collect data on underrepresented groups, but don’t have information on individuals that would allow them to confirm Her’s singular feat.

Didn’t know first name

For a man who had no formal education before coming to Wisconsin in 1994, at age 10, Her’s completion of perhaps the most difficult, competitive program in academia is remarkable, his mentor at Mayo said.

“His determination to succeed against odds, to not take no for an answer and be stubborn and overcome challenges with hard work came through,” said Jim Maher, dean of Mayo’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

“He’s a survivor,” said Maher, who grew up in Middleton and got his bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. at UW-Madison. “His family taught him to survive in really dire circumstances. ... It made him ready to tackle things that might have scared other people off.”

As a child, Her lived in three refugee camps. His family occasionally had to ration food, and each child had only two outfits of clothing, but his parents bore most of the burden, he said.

“I had a pretty happy childhood, even though the camp was overcrowded,” Her said, recalling games he improvised with other children that involved rocks, flip-flops and plastic straws.

When his family arrived in Madison, Her started fifth grade at Randall Elementary School, not knowing English or how to read in any language.

He didn’t even know his first name. His family called him Soua, a shortened version of his middle name, Fransoua. When teachers called for Yeng, he didn’t respond.

“They thought there was something wrong with me, like hearing issues or something like that,” he said.

At Jefferson Middle School, he found his footing with Sarah Stewart, who taught English as a second language. She stayed after school most days to help him study.

“She became almost like a second mom to me,” he said. “That is what really laid the foundation for me to get better grades.”

Upward Bound, a program for students from families with low incomes or no bachelor’s degrees, helped him succeed at Memorial, where he graduated in 2002.

Forced to shift focus

At UW-Madison, Her initially planned to become a physician assistant. After doing well in chemistry, which became his major, he decided to become a doctor and a scientist.

His aspirations were shaped by the kidney disease that struck his mother, Yia Vang. She was skeptical of dialysis because her sister had a bad experience with the blood-cleansing procedure, but she eventually tried it and later got a kidney transplant.

 

She is doing well today — working, along with her husband, Chong Lor Her, at Electronic Theater Control in Middleton, where they have been employed for about 20 years.

After graduating from UW-Madison, Her enrolled in Mayo’s two-year Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program, which trains promising students from disadvantaged backgrounds for academic research.

The experience helped him get into Mayo’s M.D.-Ph.D. program, a demanding, eight-year effort that starts and ends with two years of medical school, with four years of graduate school in between.

The Ph.D. portion, with Her specializing in biochemistry and molecular biology, was the most challenging, he said.

During his second year of research in Maher’s lab, a lab in Paris published work he planned to do as half of his thesis. To salvage his degree, he had to focus on the other half. Six months later, a lab in San Diego published the other half.

“Everything that I wanted to do was out,” Her said. “I went home and broke down. ... I contemplated stopping grad school.”

With encouragement from his wife, Padao Yang, and help from an adviser, he identified a different way to apply his research. The result, a paper explaining how a lack of oxygen might make people living at high altitudes more susceptible to a rare cancer called familial paraganglioma, was published in 2015 in the journal PLOS ONE.

‘Education is the key’

Her, Yang and their children moved last week to Fresno, California, where he will spend a year doing a medical internship in a city with a large Hmong-American population.

Then he’ll start his three-year residency at UW Health, and do research on pain. Eventually, he wants to treat all kinds of rehab or pain patients, not just the Hmong community. But he thinks about setting up a clinic in Laos — the Southeast Asian country where his parents grew up, and where many Hmong people live — to help injured people there.

He also wants to promote higher education among Hmong-Americans. While at UW-Madison, he started a soccer team for middle school and high school students, incorporating family gatherings, educational seminars and tips on getting into college.

“This is the reason we’re here in the United States, that we have this opportunity,” Her said. “Education is the key.”

He is proud to tell his immigrant story. “Opening the door for people like myself … to achieve the American dream, that’s something we should do,” he said.

Bee Khuuwww.anewchi.com
Today we’d like to introduce you to Bee Khuu.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Bee. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.

After the Vietnam War, the communist took over Laos in 1975. It was not until 1978 when my family and I traveled about 20 days through the jungle of Laos to Thailand for our safety. During our journey through the jungle of Laos my families faced many obstacles. We lost family members along the way and we all could have been kill by the communists at any time. My father risked it all, swimming across the Mekong River from Laos to get over to Thailand side for safety. We stayed in Refugee camps that was set up in Thailand but we were very limited on our freedom.

With my father working for the American CIA known as the Secret War during the Vietnam War, our family was accepted to come to America. We arrived in United States in 1980 settling in Toledo, OH. I was almost 5yrs. old. My father had received multiple Commendation and Citation for Vietnam War Service in Laos from the Congress of the United States. We had nothing but the cloths that was on our body, did not speak a single word of English. We had to start all over in a whole new world that we know nothing about. We are very thankful for all the donations that were given to us by churches. When we were able to go shopping at Goodwill to pick our own cloths and pay for them we were very excited. We lived with my grandparents and then when we were able to get a place of our own, it was a one bedroom apartment which at that time there were seven of us kids and my parents. Our homes were broken into multiply times. We also lived in low income housing where crimes were very high. There were police chase in our backyard, people stabbing each other in the neighborhood and there were always crowds smoking and drinking. There was a time when my family and I was coming home, in the parking lot we were be shot at with a BB gun. As a young woman growing up in this environment you had to always watch your surroundings, you never really feel safe.

A professional hairstylist was not very well known as a profession to build a career. I loved cutting hair and doing hairstylist on my sisters and friends. I attended cosmetology school and worked full time. I was going to the part time program it was Monday to Thursday evening and every Saturday for thirteen months. It’s was based on the hours for you to graduate so I did not miss a day. I worked really hard so I can graduate on time. This would have not been possible if it was not for the help of my husband taking the responsibilities of caring for our kids and our home. I have worked in retails and corporate for many years and was ready to make a change in my career path.

It is the best thing ever that I completed my schooling for cosmetology and love what
I do today. It is very heartwarming to put a smile on my client’s face, making them feel beautiful and uplifting after a service. What I love most about is the relationship I build throughout the years with my clients. It is not just about providing the services but it’s about building a relationship for a lifetime. I am so lucky to hear so many stories throughout the years of my work as a professional hairstylist, some happy ones and some sad ones. I was not the only one that touched their hearts but they have touched my heart too in so many ways. At A New Chi Salon & Spa we welcome our clients like family.

My dream was to have a salon of my own so A New Chi Salon & Spa was born. Chi has the meaning of energy, which A New Chi means A New Energy. I wanted my team to make sure all of our clients feeling a new energy entering our salon and leaving our salon with that feeling. I believed in my dreams and now I am living it.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
My family had to overcome multiple barriers with our life in America. In the Hmong culture, Hmong women should marry at a young age to work in the home and not attend college. If you graduated from high school you have reached the education that you need so the next thing to do is get marry and raise a family.

I was married at the age of seventeen to Hien my husband for 23 years. He has been a blessing in my life. We were very young, we knew nothing about life or how we were going to live life, all we knew was that we were very much in love and wanted to be together. We lived in a room which was our place on campus of UW Madison. I worked two jobs so we can move out of our room to an apartment.

In 2009 during the recession my husband was laid off from his job. We relocated to Texas in hope to build our life back up. We were out of an income for some months and was really struggling to meet ends. There was an opportunity open of purchasing a salon. We were able to get a loan from families to help with the purchase.

The purchase of the salon business was going downhill, the stylists were all quitting so that means income was going down. I worked seven days more than ten hours a day trying to make enough for expenses and building the salon business back up. I did this for seven years. It was a very difficult time for me, I was at a point in my life where I just couldn’t see myself getting past this. On top of managing the salon business I still had to hold on to my responsibilities as a wife and a mother to my family. My youngest child was only two and a half years old and she cried all the time when I dropped her off to the daycare. It was very heart breaking for me, my stress level was really high. At times where I was the only one working, I had to lock my door and put a sign “Will be back” so I can run out to pick up my two oldest from school. They would stay in the back office as I continue to service my clients. There were also time where my kids were just being kids having a disagreement and I am in the middle of servicing clients. I just had to keep moving on. I could not afford to be sick or miss any day of work.

The salon that I have inquired was not the salon level that I wanted to invest into for the future, plus I wanted to give more to my clients. There were no rooms for growth in this business. That’s when I started drafting a business plan. I had no idea where to start so I did some research on the internet to get some ideas. I hand drew my plan with how many styling stations I want to expand and created some spreadsheets on my expense and income with the new salon. I prepared my business proposal. I thought it was going to be easy, what bank would not want to finance when I am going to give them business. As I meet with multiply loan officers and was turn down or did not get pass the point of just meeting to go over my plans for the new salon. Some banks were asking for a huge amount of down payment that I didn’t have. I was starting to lose hope of my dream but I was not ready to give up yet.

Finally, I was able to get a loan. That’s when my dream was slowly surfacing back. Everything was going smoothly but of course that didn’t last too long. I have met a very unprofessional contractor for my build out, who said one thing and did another. After months of trying to work with the contractor and not getting anywhere I had to let them go. My build out was delay for several months. There just seems to be never ending issues that I had to deal with and this just made my dream of my salon farther away to reach. This was also causing a lot of stress within my personal life and my relationship with my husband. I ended up getting Bell ’s Palsy which muscle weakness on one side of the face. I hated the way I was looking. I was in so much pain, I just wanted to be alone. I slept alone in the upstairs living room crying myself to sleep for weeks. It was very difficult for me to eat and drink. I still had to continue working and would stop in between clients to ice my face to not feel so much pain. It was very difficult to find another contractor to pick up the work due to they do not want to be responsible for another contractor’s work. At last, I was able to find a contractor who took over the project but it ended costing me extra from my original finish out budget.

I have learned so much from this experience and been pushed to so many cliffs of no way out but YES! there is a way out if you work hard enough and never give up. This takes me back to my father’s life tip: “No matter how small your progress is you must acknowledge all of it. Celebrating the little wins, accomplishments, shifts and gains is important to building the life you love.” It was his courage and determination to never give up for my siblings and I to make it to America to have the life we have today.

As a women entrepreneur, we have many loads on our back but what make us special is that we never let those heavy loads stop us from doing what we love, a passion for our career and still be able to be the household women we are. It is with great pride that despite the numerous barriers that I had to face hard times but overall with courage, determination, patience, and dreams are some of the elements that have got me to where I am today.

A New Chi Salon & Spa – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I am CEO of A New Chi Salon & Spa and Hairstylist. We specialize in Hair care, Skin Care and Wellness. We partner up with Aveda to provide a safe and friendly environment to our world and clients. Aveda products are pure flower and plant essences.

As a company, we build relationship with our clients for a lifetime. One of our oldest client is ninety-eight years old, grandma to one of the actor in the Fox comedy drama series Glee. She is at the point where she can no longer come to our salon for her weekly service, our stylist will travel to her home to do her hair. Just to see her eyes lighted up as our stylist entered the room, it is the most heartwarming feeling in the world that no words can express unless you experienced it yourself.

I have a client who is in a nursing care and rehabilitation care. I was told she may not remember who I am if I were to go and visit her. I made a trip to visit her and it was my day off so I had on sweat shirt and sweat pants and for sure she was not going to remember me since all the years doing her hair she has never seen me dress so casual like that. It came to my surprise that she does remember me as her hairstylist and by name. She was introducing me to some of the staffs that work there. This is what really set up apart from others is that we continue our relationship with our clients even after the point that they are no longer coming to A New Chi. My work is my passion and it comes naturally for me to care for my clients as my family.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
The proudest moment is every day I wake up to go to work at my salon A New Chi. The accomplishment of making it here today through all the obstacles and challenges that was blocking my ways and sharing my dreams with my team and clients.

 

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Salon floor

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Contact Info:

Address:A New Chi Salon & Spa
3128 Hudson Crossing
Bldg F Ste# 3
Mckinney, Tx 75070
Website:www.anewchi.com
Phone:972-540-7595
Email:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/anewchi

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608 571-4044 608 445-4856 608 712-6822

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