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Laurel pediatrician Dr. Hiro Huang retires after 42 years

On his last day before retiring, Laurel pediatrician Dr. Hiro Huang visits with former patients Ishan (right) and Samir Patel with their mother, Upasana Bhatnagar.
On his last day before retiring, Laurel pediatrician Dr. Hiro Huang visits with former patients Ishan (right) and Samir Patel with their mother, Upasana Bhatnagar. (Doug Kapustin / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

As a middle schooler in 1950s Taiwan, Hiro Huang spent most of his afternoons sitting next to his father, Ming-Fu, as he treated sick infants and young children inside a small pediatric office across the yard from the Huang household in their hometown of Kaohsiung.

One family's visit was unlike the others, Huang recalled, when a mother couldn't afford to pay for the doctor's visit. After offering freshly caught seafood as a token of payment, Huang said his father graciously declined. Instead, he hired a pedicab to take the family to a nearby market, where they sold their offerings and kept the profit.

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Huang said it was this inspiration to care and serve that led him to a career in pediatrics, studying at Taipei Medical University. And it stayed with him for the next 42 years until his retirement on May 25 from his Laurel practice.

"My father had really great compassion," said Huang, 76, sitting inside his home in Fulton. "He believed in detailed instruction for patients to understand how to take care of their sick child after they get home. That's more important than just what happened when you took them to the doctor."

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After marrying and graduating from medical school in 1969, Huang said he and his wife, Joan, moved to Long Branch, N.J., to satisfy his interest in learning more modern medicine.

He completed his residency three years later.

Huang and his wife hoped to move back to Taiwan, where he planned to open his own practice, while Joan Huang – a licensed dentist – worked as the office manager.

"But, when we finished, Taiwan was expelled out of the United Nations and we were still under a dictatorship," Huang said. "So, we just said, 'That's not the situation that we should go back to.' We decided to stay and start my practice."

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A colleague, who worked as a pediatrician in Greenbelt, recommended Huang practice in Maryland. The couple decided to settle in Laurel, opening the doors to a medical practice in 1974 off Route 198, next to the Starting Gate shopping center.

Joan Huang said she supported her husband's practice as the office manager, also working as a travel agent.

Huang said he remembered hearing about an office park being built on Cherry Lane adjacent to Laurel Lakes; a dream destination for his practice.

"I moved in there right away," Huang said. "I could see Laurel having the potential to become a big city, with the NSA and Fort Meade nearby, [and] I found out that Laurel is a very nice city. Most of the people at that time were not really moving out or in. They would bring in family and friends to see me."

Huang has treated three generations of some patients' families.

"I think it was natural. We had mutual care and respect," he said.

As a mother of two, Lori Reed, 45, said it was also about trust. Reed first met Huang at 9 years old when her mother baby sat a young girl who was a patient.

"My [29-year-old] niece also visited with him when she was a baby and when I had my children, we started going there," said the Mount Airy resident. "He has a caring, friendly manner. You don't find many doctors that will give [patients] a hug when they're upset or to calm them down."

Reed said her two nephews were also patients as well as her daughter, 18, and son, 14.

Observation, examination and education remained essential with all patients throughout his career, Huang said. A parent can explain the illness and its symptoms, but the doctor determines the treatment, he said; and the stakes are raised when treating infants.

"I like the challenge of trying to find out what the child can not speak for themselves," Huang said. "Some child may come in screaming, but I still need to find out what it is. So, I need to spend more time talking to the mother, find out what problems they're having, how long it has been happening and then I examine the child."

He always listened and cared, Reed said.

"He just had a very soothing manner," she said. "You're not going to find a doctor that you trust as much as Dr. Huang. It makes you want to tear up now; not knowing he's there to call. He would call you at any time."

Huang's work also branched to other countries in medical missionary ventures beginning in the 1980s, when he joined the Tzu Chi Buddhism group. A Washington, D.C., chapter was established in 1999, hosting trips to Dominican Republic and El Salvador in efforts to bring medical care to poor communities.

"'Tzu Chi' means 'compassion and charity' in Chinese," Huang said. "You can't just expect the government to help poor people. Everybody has to pitch in and be responsible to make this world more peaceful. Charity is very important."

Huang said he was the only one among seven siblings who continued their father's pediatric profession. The profession now continues into a third generation; Huang's daughter, Elena Huang, is a pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Despite her father persuading her to study dermatology to avoid around-the-clock patient calls, Elena Huang had her father's persistence to follow her dream.

"She said, 'If I want to make money and have a good time, I don't want to be in medical school,'" Huang said. "It just feels like we're in the same line and same philosophy. It makes me feel very proud as a father."

In his last days on the job, many patients greeted Huang with farewell flowers and hugs, wishing to say goodbye; a sentimental moment for a sentimental career.

"It's a great fulfillment in my heart," Huang said. "As a pediatrician, you can take care of the baby, but also educate the parents how to take care of them. It's a beautiful life that I enjoy."

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