Growing up in Vietnam in the 1960s, Hiep Nguyen, MD, saw the realities of war firsthand. His father was a commanding officer in the South Vietnamese military who worked with American physicians in mobile army surgical hospital (MASH) units. Through his father, Nguyen met several surgeons who made a lasting impression.
"I was seeing them save the lives of GIs, and I thought they did miracle work," he said. "I wanted to grow up and be like them. That was the tipping point for me to get into medicine."
In the 1970s, Nguyen's family moved to Guam, then stayed in a refugee camp in Pennsylvania and spent a couple of years in New Jersey. The family ultimately settled in Houston, where Nguyen went to Rice University. He earned his medical degree at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas.
"In medical school I fell in love with the physiology of the heart and how it functions," he said. "There's a mystique about the heart. It's the soul of the person. And when you can fix it with medications or improve a valve that isn't functioning, you see results quickly. It's instant gratification."
Nguyen completed his general surgery residency at New York Medical College and his cardiothoracic surgery fellowship at New York University. Then he spent 20 years practicing in Delaware before returning to Texas.
A Healthcare Hub
Nguyen recently relocated to Florida and currently practices at the Heart and Vascular Institute of Osceola Regional Medical Center (ORMC) in Kissimmee. He specializes in minimally invasive procedures such as valve repair and replacement, endograft vascular surgery, robotic coronary artery bypass grafting surgery, and aortic surgery.
As a healthcare hub for the community, ORMC must provide all the leading-edge technology that patients expect, Nguyen says. That includes the county's only 256-slice CT scanner, allowing Nguyen and his team to visualize coronary arteries in millimeter-thin sections.
"The higher the resolution, the more detail you can get in the minor vessels," he explains. "That's the investment that our hospital is making in the community."
Minimally Invasive Procedures
With minimally invasive procedures and robotic-assisted surgery as the gold standard, Nguyen and his team are continually expanding the Institute's surgical offerings. He frequently performs transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), a minimally invasive procedure to replace a narrowed aortic valve that fails to open properly.
And to reduce the risk of stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation, the Institute recently began performing procedures to implant a left atrial appendage closure device (LAAC). The LAAC device seals off the left atrial appendage, a heart section that's the site of almost all stroke-causing blood clots in people who have A-fib. Nguyen works closely with cardiologists to place the device.
In addition, the Institute will soon offer a new minimally invasive catheter-based procedure to treat issues in the mitral valve that cause blood to leak backward when the left ventricle contracts. The Institute currently performs mitral valve repairs through a small incision.
While the techniques and technology involved in cardiac surgery have advanced, Nguyen says the primary goal has remained the same.
"At the end of the day, you want to make sure that the patient's quality of life is better," he said. "Surgery allows patients to breathe more easily, be more involved with their families and enjoy their lives more. And with minimally invasive surgery, they can recover even more quickly."
Coming Full Circle
With his childhood in Vietnam shaping his calling to medicine, Nguyen always dreamed of returning to help people there. He has led more than 10 annual medical mission trips to Vietnam, working with local physicians to establish new heart surgery programs all over the country.
"We're proud to spread the joy of cardiac surgery, and it's also good for our team to appreciate what we can do with less equipment, because it makes us grateful for what we have back home," he said.
In his spare time, Nguyen enjoys an outdoor lifestyle, including fishing, biking, and spending time at the beach with his family. His wife is a local dentist, a daughter attends Rice University, and another lives at boarding school in Michigan. He also looks forward to adding to his passport with upcoming travels in South America, having already journeyed throughout Europe, Africa and Asia.
Meanwhile, he's settling right into his new life in Osceola County. "The people here are warm and friendly, and it's gratifying to help expand the services they need right here in the community," he said. "My approach is to treat the patients as my own family. I love seeing the immediate impact I can have on their lives."
Nguyen is a board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon and practices at the Florida Heart & Lung Institute of Osceola in Kissimmee, Florida.