Eye surgeon does us proud

AWARDED a knighthood in Queen Elizabeth's Birthday Honours list this year, Professor Sir Peng Tee Khaw has won worldwide acclaim for developing new techniques and for preventing scarring in glaucoma surgery as well as for giving his patients the gift of hope.

In an article titled "He gives you hope. He is amazing", The Times highlighted Rhiannon Willis's case. When she first met Peng Tee, she was eight years old and blind in her left eye with poor vision in her right eye that prevented her from reading or recognising faces.

After several operations over three years, the 55-year-old professor of Glaucoma and Ocular Healing at Moorfields Hospital in London restored Willis's sight in her right eye.

Now 20 years old, Willis said Peng Tee wasn't condescending and took time to explain things simply. "He gives you hope. All the doctors I've seen have been amazing, but him more so."

His professional accolades include being an outstanding role model in a list compiled by the University College London School of Life and Medical Sciences and elected president of the Association of Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, the world's largest eye and vision research organisation.

In the UK, Peng Tee has also raised more than £80 million for hospitals and for eye research.

He was inspired to do research on scarring because a young child whom he looked after as a senior trainee in Moorfields underwent 60 surgical procedures that failed because of scarring and she went blind.

His empathy for his patients was shaped by his parents who taught him humility and compassion and by doctors he met during his training.

"I remember meeting in a US hospital a world-famous ophthalmologist who spent his entire lunch hour talking to me, an unknown visiting doctor. Many years later, he personally thanked me for changing so many patients' lives with my new techniques. I told him how he had generously inspired me to do the research – and I was only returning the favour."

Peng Tee's father is the late Tan Sri Khaw Kai Boh, a former housing and local government minister and MCA deputy president.

When Peng Tee was seven and the family were eating satay at the Campbell Road stalls, Kai Boh noticed a young boy about Peng Tee's age selling mothballs and called him over to their table.

The young boy told them he had to sell all the mothballs before he could go home to a single room the family rented above a shop house and do his homework under candlelight. Kai Boh bought all the mothballs from the boy and sent him home.

On hearing the boy's tale of woe, Peng Tee realised what his father was trying to teach him. This episode and stories about his father's tough childhood made him realise how fortunate he and his siblings were.

After Kai Boh's father died, relatives came to take the children back to China. Determined not to be taken away, Kai Boh hid himself until his relatives left. Thereafter, Kai Boh did odd jobs and gave private tuition to support his ailing widowed mother.

Educated at St John's Institution primary school and for two years at Victoria Institution's secondary school in Kuala Lumpur, Peng Tee left in 1970 to study in the UK's Marlborough public school.

After he passed his "A" levels, he realised he preferred to be a doctor rather than a lawyer or an accountant. He sat for another batch of "A" levels that enabled him to study medicine.

Peng Tee's decision to switch course was spurred by an Indian woman fortune teller in Kuala Lumpur who urged him to study medicine because he possessed the "mystic cross" associated with the power of healing.

As a student in Southampton University, Peng Tee worked part-time in a bakery, car firm and did other odd jobs to buy a second-hand red Mini which he repaired himself.

By not over-indulging him, his mother made him realise the value of money and the need to manage his time because he had to juggle medical studies with working all night in a bakery. Eating breakfast in the factory canteen, he knew how many hours he had to work and how many thousand buns he had to make to pay for his breakfast.

Peng Tee's older sister, Prof Dr Khaw Kay Tee is another high achiever – she is the first woman to be made a medical professor at Cambridge University and was made a Commander of the British Empire a few years ago.

Educated in Malaysian national schools when English was the medium of instruction, Peng Tee and Kay Tee's sterling achievements show Malaysians have the capability to attain worldwide renown.

Does the country's current education system and work environment provide opportunities for young Malaysians to emulate the Khaw siblings?

Opinions expressed in the article are the personal views of the writer and should not be attributed to any organisation she is connected with. A friend of the late Tan Sri Khaw Kai Boh's family, she can be contacted at siokchoo@thesundaily.com