AMORY • “I’m just a country surgeon.”
That’s how the serene and self-effacing Dr. Hoat Hoang describes himself. The 51-year-old Hoang is a general surgery specialist at the Surgery Center in Amory.
Dressed in pale blue scrubs and running shoes, Hoang is focused yet friendly. He walks briskly along the Surgery Center’s halls, greeting the people he meets by name as he passes by.
Originally from Vietnam, Hoang has been in Amory for 20 years, where he lives with his wife, Nancy, and their children, Hannah and Luke.
Hoang isn’t the type to draw attention to himself, so unless you came right out and asked, you’d probably never know about the long journey that brought this “country surgeon” to Monroe County 20 years ago.
“I was born in Vietnam in 1968,” he said. “It was during the Vietnam War. I was raised in a small, poor coastal fishing village called Phuoc Tinh.”
Hoang said his earliest memories were formed by the sea.
“My father was a commercial fisherman,” he said. “I remember my siblings and I would run down to the pier at the end of the day, eager to see the catch. I remember walking along the beach every single day.”
Raised Catholic, Hoang said church was an important part of family life as well.
“I remember going to church every Sunday,” he said. “Everyone was Catholic; I guess from the time when Vietnam was a French colony. That’s all I knew.”
As the war raged in Vietnam, Hoang said his father knew if the communists prevailed his family would have to leave.
“My father knew if South Vietnam fell to the communists, we would need to get out,” he said. “Not for economic reasons, but because of the fear of religious persecution.”
In 1975, Hoang said the fateful day came that would change the trajectory of his life forever.
“On April 31,1975, Saigon – modern-day Ho Chi Minh City – fell,” he said. “The troops came to our village; I could hear them running around and the explosions. I remember hiding under my bed. When you’re six years old, that’s a terrifying thing.”
With only the clothes on their backs and one small bag between them, Hoang said his father loaded his extended family into his small fishing boat and headed out to sea, not knowing what would happen next.
“In the harbor, there were communist ships and there were American ships,” he said. “We didn’t know who was friend and who was foe. A communist ship fired on us and my paternal grandmother was hit in the foot.”
With his grandmother wounded and in need of medical attention, Hoang said his father turned the boat around and headed back toward the shore, where he was faced with an agonizing decision.
“Can you imagine it?” Hoang said. “My grandfather said, ‘We’ve had a good life; you go and find better opportunities for your family.’ So that’s what we did. It still brings tears to my eyes to think of having to make that decision.”
Hoang said he and his family were eventually picked up by a series of American ships, and after being separated for a time, they were reunited and taken to Florida, along with countless other Vietnamese refugees.
“You remember the ‘boat people’ on the news?” he said. “Well, that was us. We were some of the boat people.”
Once in the U.S., Hoang said his family lived for a time in rural Kentucky before moving to southern Louisiana, where other members of Hoang’s extended family had relocated, and where many still live today.
“I still love to fish,” he said. “I keep a boat down on the coast and go down as often as I can. My dad is 80 now, and he can still out-fish all of us. He’s in pretty good health, but we need to savor those moments.”
After graduating from medical school at Louisiana State University in New Orleans, Hoang said he moved to Amory, where he’s been ever since.
“I knew if I wanted to practice broad-spectrum surgery, I’d be in a small town,” he said. “In Amory, I can do everything from endoscopy to colonoscopy, thyroid, breast, lung surgery, and so on. That’s the appeal.”
Hoang and his family are active members at St. Helen’s Catholic Church in Amory. Now as always, faith plays an important role in his life, and informs this “country surgeon’s” practice of medicine.
“I’ve probably done 3,000 gallbladder surgeries,” he said. “But I’m always humbled because of the complexity of the body. There is no doubt there was a ‘grand designer.’”
As his faith has matured, Hoang said his view of God has changed.
“When I was growing up, you feared God as a master,” he said. “But as my faith has evolved, I transitioned from the fearful God to a loving, welcoming, forgiving God. You can’t earn his his grace, so you just bask in his glory.”