All In for Bay Area Kids

Every month for nearly 50 years, Lawrence Ng, MD, has played poker with a group of buddies. They talk politics and family matters, but, unlike most game-night conversations, theirs also delves into medicine. This circle of pediatricians, all connected to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, includes three members who met there as residents in 1968—one of whom is Dr. Ng.

It all started after Dr. Ng completed medical school in his native Hong Kong, then decided to do his residency in the United States, where, he says, the field of pediatrics was more advanced at the time.

Arriving at UCSF Benioff Oakland, Dr. Ng was impressed by the diversity of the staff and immediately felt welcome. Taken under the wing of cardiologist Stanley Higashino, MD, who initiated the poker night, Dr. Ng did an additional two-year fellowship in pediatric cardiology at the hospital and later came back to train residents.

He’s now been running his private practice for 45 years—and still loves caring for kids.

“I think children naturally like me,” he says. “I feel like they look at my face and know I’m not a bad guy.”

After more than four decades as a pediatrician, Dr. Ng has amassed a collection of remarkable success stories. One in particular is a teen who came to see the doctor for a routine exam before leaving for college. Although Dr. Ng had known the patient for ten years and did not detect any abnormal findings during his examination, he wanted to have more thorough blood work done since the young man would be moving out of the Bay Area. The lab results showed a slightly low white blood cell count. He decided to repeat the test two weeks later to see if there was any fluctuation in results. The repeat white blood cell count was slightly lower than before.

Feeling uncomfortable with these findings, Dr. Ng referred the patient to a pediatric hematologist at Children’s. Once admitted, a bone marrow biopsy revealed that the college-bound patient was suffering from a very early stage of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He underwent a course of chemotherapy and had a complete recovery.  Dr. Ng has proudly shared this story with his colleagues and patients for more than twenty years.  

As a long-time figure in the Bay Area medical community, Dr. Ng has also started to experience a unique phenomenon: third-generation patients.

“It’s great when a grandparent brings a child in, and that grandparent was once my patient,” he says. “It’s interesting to catch up on what happened over the last 20 or 30 years.”

He can relate to caretakers of sick kids in part because of his own tragic experience, also connected to Children’s. His daughter Jennifer was treated for epilepsy at the hospital, and a bad seizure left her with severe lung damage. She passed away in 1988 at age 14.

Over the years, Dr. Ng has made donations to our Oakland campus not only to honor his daughter, but also to support Children’s mission of serving every child, no matter the family’s means. He’s acutely aware, as a doctor and a patient’s father, of the high cost of medical care.

“There are a lot of people who don’t have any insurance, or maybe their employer offers insurance for them but not their children,” he says. “If their children become sick, they can really suffer financially, and they need help.”

Dr. Ng also wants to recognize the hospital’s personal significance in his life—where he trained, his daughter was treated, and he made lifelong friends. He recently made a donation to name a pediatric intensive care room in the new 89,000-square-foot outpatient clinic, scheduled to open next year.

“The hospital has been an important part of my life in the United States, so I feel like I need to contribute,” he says.