A Heartfelt Journey for Stroke Survivor Frank Deng

Alhambra Health Center  |  January 27, 2021
Frank Deng, accompanied by his wife Mu Ying Jin, arrives at the Tzu Chi Health Center in Alhambra, CA for a checkup. Photo: Shuli Lo.

Written by Audrey Cheng and Carole Liu
Translated by Dr. Lina Lin
Edited by Nancy Bendig & Dilber Shatursun

Two years ago, Frank Deng’s life changed when he suffered from a stroke. A once healthy and able man, he could now barely walk on his own. In fact, Frank had even been hospitalized six times after. Upon learning about this elder’s suffering, Tzu Chi volunteers were determined to help.

Frank visits Dr. Stephen Denq. Photo: Shuli Lo.

Treating Patients With Great Care and Love

Due to the chronic nature of Frank’s health condition, Tzu Chi knew Dr. Stephen Denq at the Tzu Chi Health Center in Alhambra, California, would be the best person to help. An experienced internal medicine specialist, Dr. Denq is also very caring and patient with all the people in his care. Concerned of the long-term side effects and consequences of Frank’s many medications, Dr. Denq was able to work with Frank to eventually bring it down to just two prescription medications a day to keep his hypertension and cholesterol at bay. Adding a holistic element to his care, Dr. Denq also referred Frank seek acupuncture treatment by the Health Center’s Dr. Y-Hsien Lai.

In recent years, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation began partnering with the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine to seamlessly integrate Western and Eastern medicine practices in an attempt to more holistically address patients’ pain and suffering. By combining the best of both worlds, these services have been made available and are often recommended by our medical teams to patients, expanding awareness and trust in integrative medicine. The fusion of these methods in Frank’s course of treatment is one testament to this success.

 At its heart, these methods reflect an interest in an individual that is not restricted to the label of ‘patient,’ but, rather, as a person, whose needs continue long after they have left the doctor’s office. One reason that the cost of medicine in the Western world is so high is that it relies on costly tests and advanced technologies that, for the ordinary person with little to no insurance, is a burden. In such cases, many decide to bear and grin and seldom seek the help of a medical professional until it is too late. Eastern medicine, on the other hand, takes a different approach.

Many Eastern medicine practitioners use Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian philosophies when treating patients. There is a greater emphasis on stress management, a balanced diet, exercise, and acupuncture. It also takes into account the larger picture: a person’s upbringing, work environment, diet, mental health status, and lifestyle. The focus here lies more in prevention, whereas Western medicine can focus more on monitoring changes.

After his stroke, Frank never imagined he would be back on his feet like he used to. But, every day, he inches closer and closer towards his dream. With Frank’s determination and encouragement from Tzu Chi’s medical team, not only is he able to stand, but he is now learning to walk again! Frank recalled that there were many instances along his recovery where he experienced headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations, nausea, and vomiting. With the support of the staff at Tzu Chi, Frank now tells us that when he comes for his appointments, he feels like he’s among family.

Frank making his next appointment. Photo: Shuli Lo.

The Third Time's the Charm

In 1986, Frank gave up his career as a chef in Taiwan and emigrated to Santa Barbara, California. At the time, he had heard about Tzu Chi in the news and was touched by Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s missions of charity, medicine, education, and culture. Frank was strongly moved by the Master’s vow to spread love all over the world. He told himself that he would help as well.

When Tzu Chi Free Clinic (now Health Center) opened in 1993 in Alhambra, Frank would drive all the way from Santa Barbara on his day off to help clean the clinic. Because of his hard work and dedication, Frank was even once featured in the Tzu Chi USA Journal. When asked about his story in the magazine, Frank replied modestly, saying that what he did was nothing compared to its doctors’ work as Bodhisattvas.  Unfortunately, when Frank changed jobs, he was unable to continue his volunteer work assisting the Health Center.

But later, Frank moved to Northridge, CA, and reconnected with some Tzu Chi volunteers. He found out that the Tzu Chi Great Love Preschool & Kindergarten in Monrovia and Tzu Chi USA Headquarters in San Dimas needed a chef. Frank seized the opportunity and began to volunteer on Tuesdays, cooking vegetarian meals for Tzu Chi staff and volunteers. Frank made sure that the dishes were always cooked with the freshest of ingredients and he avoided food waste as much as possible. His greatest reward was to see everyone finish and enjoy the lunch into which he’d poured his heart and soul.

Years later, Frank changed jobs and moved again. He wanted to continue cooking meals again for Tzu Chi, but saw that there were so many volunteers that he didn’t think he was needed. Frank told us he regretted stopping, as the 20+ years he’d spent as a volunteer at Tzu Chi were amongst his happiest times. Now, Frank’s goal is to work hard to get well so that he can cook at Tzu Chi again.

Frank chats with staff at the Tzu Chi Health Center in Alhambra, CA. Photo: Shuli Lo.

Letting Bygones Be Bygones

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Frank started watching Dharma Master Chen Yen’s morning Dharma talks on Tzu Chi’s Da Ai TV. Master’s wisdom says that, “when walking, as we step one foot forward, we lift the other foot up.” In order to move forward, it is required that we let go of the past; a concept that strongly resonated with him.

Frank was born into a poor family. Frank and his two siblings were adopted by three different families. He didn’t meet them again until he was 19 years old. Frank also had two adoptive fathers.  The second adoptive father was in the sand business, digging sand from the river, in order to send Frank to school. At one point, their family home was robbed. To help his family financially recover, Frank sacrificed his own education to work. Yet, he had grown up as a resourceful person.

At just 12 years old, Frank learned basic mechanic work and how to fix cars. At 14, he worked in cold, dark mines for two years. Then, he had gotten frustrated with eating cold meals at work. At 16, he became an apprentice at a restaurant and finally he was able to eat delicious, warm food. He became interested in cooking and learned how to cook Taiwanese, Szechuan and Japanese cuisines. His experiences in cooking laid a foundation for volunteering as a chef at Tzu Chi.

In the past, Frank dreaded the holidays because he had no family in the US. But, developing heartfelt connections with the people he met at Tzu Chi, he no longer felt so alone. Even though he is recovering, Frank now has a new lease on life.

This past fall, when Frank learned that Tzu Chi Medical’s Health Center’s were now certified as Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) Look Alikes, he hoped that others would offer their support to this loving and caring institution. Frank knows first-hand that with better funding, patients who rely on Tzu Chi Medical’s services can get more advanced care, no matter if or how they are able to pay. That’s his current hope for the future. But, Frank already knows: it takes one step at a time.

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