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Doc’s views shaped by time in refugee camp

Dr. Anthony Pham in his new Keizer office. (KEIZERTIMES/Jason Cox)

Of the Keizertimes

Dr. Anthony Pham, owner of a new chiropractic clinic on River Road, has come a long way from the grass hut he lived in as a boy in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Yet his time in Vietnam – and a year spent in a refugee camp at Bataan as a stopover on the way to the United States – shaped his view on life forever.

“You make the best out of it,” Pham said. “I’ve learned to be optimistic in a very negative situation. That’s how I was raised. Post-war  (Vietnam) wasn’t much fun either.”
Pham, 34, was born shortly after hostilities ceased in the nation. He and his family – father, mother and two siblings, with a brother born later – grew up in a hut, walking barefoot to school and swimming in sewage-infested waters.

Pardon him if he chuckles a bit when he hears complaints of pollution in the Willamette River.

“Everything from there is a step up,” he said. “I appreciate every day.”

His father had been in the South Vietnam Air Force during the war. Although his family wasn’t facing persecution, Vietnam’s economy post-war was devastated. (Pham never had a bicycle until he lived in the United States.) His father took advantage of an opportunity offered by the United States – political asylum.

It wasn’t an easy process – they applied in 1983 and moved in 1989 – but Pham said his early life taught him “not to look at negativities. You have the choice of seeing the cup half-empty or half-full. If you focus on the positive everything will come as a bonus.”

That’s the way he chose to look at his year on the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines. It offered loads of new experiences – fresh mangos available,  surrounded by a jungle filled with animals he’d never seen before.

“I loved to sneak out and go to the jungle and swim in a stream – beautiful, clean water,” Pham said. “I loved to watch the monitor lizards – going into the jungle and observing animals.”
It’s also where he began learning English; the camp had a school and church. About a year later his family moved to Olympia, Wash., where at 17 he started his freshman year at an American high school.

“The American kids were very friendly,” he said. “Of course some of them will make fun of you because of your English … like any society, there are good people and bad.”

He studiously worked to improve his English, reading a dictionary “word by word, three hours a day,” learning the new language.

And he got a bicycle. It was a woman’s bike, but he didn’t know that at the time and probably wouldn’t have cared if he did.

Then there was this foreign substance we call snow – something he’d never seen before.

“I actually rode my bike into snow the first time I saw it – I didn’t know to keep myself warm. I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans,” Pham said with a laugh.

He attended St. Martin’s University in Spokane, and was working in the nephrology department at St. Joseph Hospital in Tacoma trying to get into medical school. A car accident brought him into a chiropractor’s office, where he “saw how it can help you recover from injury. That’s a lot of what made me decide to become a chiropractor.”

So he attended Western States Chiropractic School in Portland, obtaining a doctorate in chiropractic medicine there. He worked for a firm in the Portland area for three years before deciding to open his own shop.

He thought Keizer was “a very nice city” and it was the “volunteerism” part of the city’s motto that helped him make his decision.

“This clinic is about serving the community,” he said, noting he and his wife devote Sundays to volunteering for the Woodburn Youth Futbol Association.

He considers traumatic injury treatment a specialty – from things like car accidents, work or athletic injuries – but also accepts patients with other pains, new or lingering.

“Chiropractic doctors are specialists in the neuroskeletal and muscular systems – we can address the cause and not just mask it with pain medication,” Pham said.

A typical first-time patient would have their neck and back examined, and Pham would render a diagnosis – the patient can choose whether chiropractic or other treatment is the best option.

Pham does take insurance from many firms, and is working to add more, he said.

The full range of services available include massage, spinal manipulation, Interferential Current Treatment – using small electric currents to stimulate muscles – and physical rehabilitation techniques like stretches and exercises.

The clinic will have a ribbon cutting with the Keizer Chamber of Commerce at noon Monday, Sept. 27. [MAP: 9]

Health & Wellness Chiropractic Center
3851 River Road N.
Monday-Saturday 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Closed Sunday.