News » From the Chairman - February 2016

From the Chairman - February 2016

February 2016 - Volume 20, Issue 2

If asked to write about the most unusual person you have ever known, some of you might have to think a while before answering; but not me. I knew Dr. Tsung O Cheng. He was not the “most interesting man in the world,” but he was the most unusual.

Tsung O (which he told me is the correct way to refer to him) was born in 1925 in Shanghai, China. He received his B.S. and M.D from St. John’s University in Shanghai. He did a residency in internal medicine at Cook County Hospital in Chicago followed by years of additional cardiac training at Northwestern, GW/DC General, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard and finally Johns Hopkins. His first job was as an assistant professor at Downstate before he came back to GW in 1970 as an Associate Professor.

In the 1970’s thru the early 1980’s Tsung O was the leading cardiac catheterizer in the Washington, DC area. He would be in to work at 6:30am every day and start cathing at exactly 7:30am. Every case was an adventure and every cath report was a small novel. T. O. coined those famous cath lab terms such as “hot shot,” “cough or you die,” “oh no look what you’ve done,” (a favorite among the fellows and patients) and “not like that.” (Many a fellow still has the scar on their shins from being kicked by T. O.) Remember, patients weren’t sedated although often they wished they were. These were only diagnostic caths, but I never remember T. O. having a complication. Except of course, the day the Hydrogen Balloon blew up in the lab while he was looking for an ASD. The fireball engulfed the pt. and burned off both the patients’ eyelashes. T.O. never broke scrub.

I first saw/met T. O. in the late 70’s when he was giving a lecture in Philadelphia on “Paradoxical Embolus.” When I reminded him of this a few years ago, he went down to his office and came back with the brochure from that lecture. He hoarded everything. He had pictures with Mao and letters from Nixon and Kissinger. He had signed pictures from Paul Dudley White, Eugene Braunwald and John Barlow from MVP fame who was a good friend. Tsung was asked to write Barlow’s eulogy. He was an honorary Professor at over 35 Universities in over 15 countries.

He published over 2,000 articles, abstracts, books and book chapters. I enjoyed his chronology of the spread of Coronary Disease in China. T. O. attributed this mostly to KFC and McDonalds as the epidemic of heart disease started 15-20 years after the introduction of junk food. He was an advocate of Mainland China and it took him a while to forgive me when I said that the Olympics of 2008 should be moved out of China because of the massacre at Tiananmen Square.

He had no interests other than his work. He was in early every morning working on his papers and books. Publications included a range of topics from “Bumpversion to Thumpversion” to “All Teas are not Created Equal, Chinese Green Tea and Cardiovascular Health,” to one that says it all about T.O., “No Apostrophe ‘s’ after Marfan in Marfan Syndrome.”

Every year at annual report time I would ask T. O. if I could make him Emeritus and each time he said no because it sounded too much like retiring. He said he didn’t need to be Emeritus and would “die with his boots on” and at 90 years of age, that is what he did on the way to work.

(T.O.’s last article had a quote from Yogi Berra, and when I said that I had a picture of me with Yogi he asked to see it. I brought it in but didn’t have a chance to show him. Knowing that T.O. would be frustrated, as he didn’t like things unfinished, here is the photo so we have closure.)