Dr. Ong Sea Hing, Senior Consultant, Farrer Park Hospital

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Reaching Out to Heal

Dr. Hing, what drove you to specialize in the field of cardiology? How do you incorporate holistic healthcare in your practice?
I think Cardiology is a very good balance between a physician and a surgeon. Primarily because there is room for me to maintain a stable interaction and communication with my patients. Not that Surgeons avert from this, but, it’s more the case that their time and attention is allocated to the surgery and the patients resulting well-being. We, physicians, talk and deal with the patient holistically, something I’ve always liked. However, I also love to do procedures. There are a handful of internees who do so, and Cardiologists get to form many of them. Hence, it’s a perfect balance between patient care and communication along with the excitement from conducting procedures. I think we have to dig deeper than the patient’s symptoms and look into their social and psychological state; along with social support. As this ensures that he/she complied with the management. In other words, understanding the patient from not just physical, but emotional and even spiritual aspects too. A lot of our patients, especially the young men who suffer from heart attacks, tend to get depressed. Hence, having a holistic approach allows the patient to better cope with their individual needs.

What would you say is the most prominent healthcare risk when it comes to our heart?
The highest risk for getting heart related diseases are family history i.e. genetics; something which you cannot change. Hence, if you are aware of heart diseases in your family, it’s important that you get yourself screened. As there lies a high chance that you may have it and accordingly, get treated early.
However, there are things that you can change; smoking would be one of them. Most young patients who are in their 30’s, almost all of them are smokers. Diabetes is another big issue, especially in Bangladesh where the incidence of it is high. I think, somehow, South Asians are more prone to this. Generally, 6 out of 10 diabetics will suffer from heart disease, so quite a strong correlation.

What kind of cardio disease is most prevalent in South-Asia? What are the possible reasons?
The commonest would be coronary artery disease, which is blockage of the blood vessels that supply the heart with oxygen. This takes up a large segment. On the other hand, we are seeing more elderly patients, as people are now living longer than their ancestors. The two most common diseases are Irregular Heart Rhythm which leads to disabling strokes. Also, we see more and more patients with degenerative valves; the valves cannot function properly due to old age. The risks overall are genetics, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and so on.

You have mentioned that prevention is better than cure. In respect to that, what lifestyle choices can the people of Bangladesh adopt to prevent cardiac diseases?
I always tell my patients that you can always decide what you want to put in your mouth. So, there’s no such excuse that I cannot control my diet because you have to consciously put in your mouth and chew it. In my opinion, the people of Bangladesh should eat much less carbohydrates, in other words, much less rice, bread, chapati and so on. More so, actively try to eliminate sugar from their diet as much as possible. There should be more emphasis on physical activities, especially exercising. Limiting smoking and preventing the development of new smokers is key. In my opinion, it’s difficult to work with a patient who already smokes as it’s not that easy to let go of this addiction. Hence, societies must work extra hard in stopping the younger generation from starting.

If you had one piece of advice for your patients, what would it be?
I am trying to decide which is more important – To live a healthy lifestyle or getting screened for heart diseases. However, in all seriousness, living a healthy lifestyle is more significant as it allows you to really make a difference. As I mentioned earlier, genetics is an eventuality which you cannot escape, but we can work to delay that eventuality by cultivating better lifestyle choices.

What is the most rewarding part of being a doctor?
To be able to see patients get well after surviving the trauma of a heart attack. To be able to aide in that patient’s betterment to see them move on with their lives properly, even after undergoing such a traumatic experience. It’s a quite fulfilling feeling.

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