My Near-Death Experience: What I Learned as a Patient

My Near-Death Experience: What I Learned as a Patient

The 18th Annual Retina Fellows Forum Meeting took place in Chicago, Illinois in January this year. VMR Institute’s Dr. Chong was invited to give a speech about something personal and meaningful.

The annual meeting which invites over 90% of the graduating fellows in the country to learn their field and to spend time with leaders in the field as well as to get advice about private or academic practice. Traditionally, a distinguished individual in the field is asked to present a talk about something unrelated to the field of vitreo-reitnal surgery. The purpose of these talks is to share something meaningful that has happened in their life, something they would like to impart to young audience members.

Dr. Chong chose to give his talk about an accident that occurred in November of 2016 when he lost his wife, Lee. The accident put him in the very same hospital where he worked for 20 years, the LAC-USC Medical Center. Those who were once colleagues were the ones now saving his life. Because of this, Dr. Chong became one of the most famous patients in the center, because he was the only professor who wound up in his own operating room and hospital.

His talk centered around the uncertainty that is life, and how he had lost the person that he thought he would spend the rest of his life with. With Lee gone, his plans for the next 20 years seemed to have gone too. His ultimate goal was to impart to his young listeners, who are currently so wrapped up and anxious about starting their careers, not to wait for something tragic to happen to force them to open their eyes to the beauty of life that surrounds them, and to remember to enjoy every single day with their loved ones.

His summary of points were:

  • I know who’s coming to my funeral
  • Friends and family are the most important things in life
  • The kindness of strangers can be amazing
  • There is no better profession than to be a physician
  • Nurses are really important
  • Post traumatic stress syndrome is very real and debilitating
  • Surviving is not necessarily being brave or strong, it’s just finishing the next thing you have to do
  • Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than to be smart
  • When you have lost hope, be contrarian
  • Women are the stronger sex
  • Don’t waste time. You can’t get more of it.
  • Life is about choices. I have chosen to try to be as happy as I can.


The talk was, of course, extremely well-received, with some faculty calling it the best they had heard in 18 years.

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