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UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 05 | Mar. 8, 2001

Doctor heads to China on trip back in time

Pioneering father built medical unit in northern China

In his own version of the Orient Express, Dr. Donald Paty, director of UBC's Multiple Sclerosis Research Programs, is about to head to China on a sentimental journey.

Paty, his son Breay and his nephew Philip -- also physicians -- will travel in April to Changzhou in southern China to honour the achievements of his late father, Dr. Robert Morris Paty.

In 1924 -- more than a decade before Canadian doctor Norman Bethune started a medical unit in northern China -- 34-year-old Robert arrived from Atlanta to serve as a medical missionary with the Southern Methodist Church.

"My father was something of an adventurer," says Donald. "My mother, too -- she was only 19 at the time they went to China."

Within one year, Robert became fluent in Chinese and took over direction of the area's hospital when his predecessor died of typhus. In 1933, only nine years after his arrival, he had raised enough money through a nation-wide tour of the U.S. to found and build a new 300-bed hospital.

The Patys made their home in China and most of their five children, including Donald, were born there. Family photos show the eminent neurologist as a toddler in the arms of his amah in front of impressive hospital buildings whose verandahs are reminiscent of the family's Old South roots.

In 1940 Americans were asked to leave the country and the Patys returned to the U.S. To settle in Georgia. Robert returned to China after the Second World War for 18 months. He later worked in New York, Asia and Africa and retired at age 75. He died in 1983.

And now, 77 years after Robert's arrival, the three doctors have been asked by that same hospital in Changzhou to give a medical symposium in honour of the man who is famous there for his contributions to medical care.

With obvious pride, Paty points to a framed certificate on the wall of his office that is written in Chinese characters.

"That's my dad's lifetime honorary membership in the Chinese medical association," he says, adding that he inherited some of his father's wanderlust and moved with his wife and young family to Borneo at the outset of his own medical career.

The three Paty doctors will each give a short talk at the memorial symposium on their specialty topics.

Donald will present a seminar on diagnosis and follow-up of multiple sclerosis with an emphasis on magnetic resonance imaging.

Breay, a fellow in endocrinology at the University of Washington will discuss diabetes and pancreas islet cell transplants.

Philip, a cancer surgeon working in New York City, will make a presentation on future directions in research and treatment for colorectal cancer.

Robert Paty and his three medical descendants all graduated from Emory College University in Atlanta, Ga. Breay is also a UBC medical graduate.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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