Providing hope in haematology-oncology – medical grapevine – brain anoxia

Providing hope in haematology-oncology

Dr teo cheng peng is a senior consultant haematologist at parkway cancer centre. His clinical interests are in haematology and oncology. After finishing his post-graduate training at the national university hospital (NUH), he subsequently did his sub-speciality training in stem cell transplantation at the royal marsden hospital.

Upon returning to singapore, dr teo initiated the stem cell transplant programme in NUH and also the stem cell transplant programme for solid tumours in the department of medical oncology, singapore general hospital. Then he continued stem cell transplantation in gleneagles hospital when he joined private practice in 1997.

Also, dr teo is one of the founding members of stemcord pte ltd – the first cord blood bank to store cord blood stem cells in singapore.Brain anoxia today, he continues to develop his interest (and leadership) in the field of stem cells. He is the chairman of gleneagles hospital blood transfusion committee, member of the singapore society of haematology, singapore bone marrow donor programme, singapore society of oncology, society of transplantation (singapore), international society of haematology and graft engineering, and the international society of haematology.

Medical grapevine recently sat down with dr teo cheng peng to share some insights on his chosen field of medical specialty.

What inspired you to take up a degree in medicine? And why the interest to specialise in haematology and medical oncology, in particular?

Dr teo: as far as I can remember, I always had this urge to study medicine.Brain anoxia from a young age, I have always been fascinated by how the body works, how the body succumbs to diseases and how it recovers from diseases. Encouragements and strong support from my parents certainly helped. Hence, I have always focused on getting good grades in the “O” and “A” examinations to give myself a chance to enter medical school.

As for the interest in haematology-oncology, it was a mixture of opportunity and the good fortune of having good teachers. I had a couple of good consultants in haematology when I was a medical officer in NUH. They were truly inspirational, and with the opportunity of a training position in the department of haematology-oncology in NUH then, it was an easy decision.Brain anoxia

What were the difficulties and challenges you encountered when you were just starting your career, and as you moved along?

Dr teo: the post-graduate examinations and sub-specialty training were the easy portions in my career. In fact, the best time of my career was when I was in the UK during my sub-specialty training. As I was an extra pair of hands to them and not being a “threat” to their jobs, I was given all the training opportunities that I desired. It was the most enjoyable period as learning was all that I need to do. Funnily enough, it was after I was trained and was supposed to apply the skills I had learned, that I encountered difficulties. It was difficult to introduce new techniques/technology and to change entrenched local medical practices in the beginning.Brain anoxia furthermore, leadership issues in the department did not help. A change of department and hospital did wonders to my career, as after the switch, I was able to utilise the knowledge and skills learned.

What are the important milestones and achievements that you are most proud of?

Dr teo: while there are many milestones/achievements I am proud of (such as starting the stem cell transplant programs in NUH and SGH, starting the first cord blood bank in singapore, etc.), I am most proud of being a doctor. The life experiences that I had encountered in the course of my career are priceless. These experiences taught me so much about life. There are few professions that can match the diversity of these life experiences as a doctor.Brain anoxia I am so happy to have chosen medicine as my career.

What are the challenges you face in treating your patients?

Dr teo: the most difficult challenge in treating patients is when we run out of treatment options. This is common in haematology-oncology. It is very difficult to tell a patient or the family that we do not have any more treatment options available. Hope is a very powerful medicine and when the situation becomes hopeless, it is very demoralising. It is especially challenging when we are treating young patients.

Do you mind briefly sharing with us the most difficult or most challenging case you’ve ever handled?

Dr teo: my most memorable case was an american gentleman who literally returned from the dead.Brain anoxia he had just been evacuated from jakarta for severe pancytopaenia (which was either due to malaria itself or from the anti-malarial medications). He promptly collapsed. We proceeded with resuscitation with the help of my intensivist and cardiologist colleagues. Many times, during the resuscitation which took up to between two and three hours, I thought we had lost him. Blood pressure and heart rate were un-recordable for stretches of time. I had also thought that, even if we succeed in reviving him, he would likely have anoxic brain damage. But the amazing thing is that, not only did he survive (albeit, with a lengthy stay in ICU), he did not have any anoxic brain damage at all. He recovered and returned home well.Brain anoxia this case taught me a very valuable lesson – we must give every patient a chance, sometimes even when the situation seemed hopeless – because miracles do happen.

Through the years, are there developments in your specialty that have been positive or negative? What is your stand on this?

Dr teo: advances and breakthroughs in haematology-oncology are occurring at breakneck speed in the last five to eight years. These developments truly have made a huge impact in survival outcomes. And the best part is, the best is yet to come. There are still so many more new medicines or advances in the pipeline. At this rate of development, I am optimistic that many cancers will become curable in the next 10 to 15 years, or at least, have very good long-term survivals.Brain anoxia

What would you consider to be the best things about your work?

Dr teo: the best thing about my work is the life experiences learned. These experiences truly make me appreciate the meaning of life.

How does work affect your family life?

Dr teo: fortunately, work had not affected my family life much. While there may be long hours, like going back to hospital at nights or burned weekends, having a supportive family is very helpful. Adjusting family time around work a little bit is often enough to ensure that there is enough time for the family.

Aside from your profession, what other things in life are you most passionate about?

Dr teo: I have always been passionate about sports whether it was badminton, tennis, volleyball, basketball, sepak takraw or swimming in my younger days.Brain anoxia I feel restless, if I have not exercised. Now, it is golf, and I find it a truly fascinating game.

If you can live your life all over again, would you still aspire to become a doctor and choose the same specialties?

Dr teo: absolutely. No regrets – and I would make the same choices all over again.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring young doctors out there?

Dr teo: you have to “love” your work.