by Dr. Iain
eye specialist who is becoming very well known in Pattaya is Dr. Somchai
Trakoolshokesatian, the ophthalmologist from the Bangkok-Pattaya Hospital.
He is dedicated to helping people to see, using new surgical techniques,
so I suppose that he could be called a doctor with a vision!
He was born in Nakhon Sawan, of Thai-Chinese parents.
“We were very poor,” said Dr. Somchai. “My father was a labourer,
and my mother had a small shop in the village.” Fortunately, or perhaps
with foresight, his parents were satisfied with just one child, as family
finances were not good.
He did well at the local government schools, mixing his
studies with helping his mother in the shop, or going with his father to
assist him in any way that he could. During this time, his interest in art
became very strong and he ventured to his parents that he would like to
study to become an artist. However, his parents were hoping that their
only son would take another direction in life. “The dream of all
Thai-Chinese families is for their children to become doctors. It was my
parent’s dream.” So like all good Thai-Chinese sons, Somchai
Trakoolshokesatian went to university to study medicine.
The fees were not too expensive at Chiang Mai
University, and he went there for six years to study for his basic degree.
In return for government assistance young doctors become indentured and
must serve three years in a public hospital. For Dr. Somchai, this was to
be in Tak province, close to the Burmese border. “We saw lots of Burmese
Hill Tribe people, and held clinics for them, like an extension of the
hospital.” These out-patient clinics were a three day walk with
elephants! “We could not ride the elephants, they carried the medicines
and equipment.” Looking at the decidedly non-muscular Dr. Somchai, it is
hard to imagine this man trekking through the jungles, but he did.
After his three years, he decided to become an eye
specialist. “When I was a student I heard many beautiful stories about
patients whom doctors had helped to see. It impressed me. I wanted to be
able to share happiness. I am not just helping someone to see, it makes me
happy too, when operations are successful.”
There was another reason too. “Eye surgery is very
delicate work. Many doctors are scared of the very delicate nature of it.
It’s close to being art work,” said Dr. Somchai by explanation.
After another three years at Chiang Mai University, he
become a licensed Eye Specialist, certified by the Board of Ophthalmology
An amazing scenario then emerged. Here was Dr. Somchai,
with his shiny new certificate, but there were no positions vacant for
newly qualified ophthalmologists at any of the government hospitals.
Eventually there was a vacancy in a hospital in Rayong which he took.
Three months later the hospital closed, and the new ophthalmologist was
A friend of his opened a polyclinic and asked him to
help him out, working as a general surgeon/GP/physician for the next 12
months. This was not what he wanted to do, but at least it kept some money
coming in. This was necessary, as by this stage he had married and had one
son to rear.
However, in 1996, the Bangkok-Pattaya Hospital was
looking for a resident ophthalmologist, and Dr. Somchai, wife and son
moved to Pattaya.
Now fully employed in his own specialty, he was very
interested in refractive surgery. It was the artistry that he had always
leaned towards, and he could combine his artistic skills with the demands
of eye surgery. LASIK became the new way to correct refractive errors and
Dr. Somchai went to Antwerp, Belgium to do the international course in
Refractive Laser Surgery.
He followed this up, the following year, with the
international course in Refractive Surgery (Akkommodative-1CU) in Munich,
Germany. This was to learn the very latest techniques in implantation of
Intra Ocular Lenses (IOLs). It was here that he began to formulate his own
ideas, and could see that one very important factor was to select the
right lens for the differing eyes of the patient’s. This required
extreme accuracy in pre-operation measurements. He visited the company in
Germany that was making IOLs and discussed the calculations and formulae
that were being used.
He returned to Thailand and began to develop a system
by which his accurate measurements were then followed by insertion of an
IOL that could be focussed, using the patients own ciliary muscles (small
muscles in the eye that are used to change the focal length of the normal
lens). The end result was a lens that acted like a normal one, able to see
distance, but still could be focussed close up, to make reading glasses no
longer needed. “I had to change the point of view to be that of the
patient, rather than that of the doctor.” In this way he could begin to
see (sorry about the pun) the needs of the patients and adapt the methods
to assist them. He called his system “SuperSight” and is now the
leading surgeon in the world using the special German lenses, implanting
90 percent of the companies output.
Now his SuperSight takes up even more than 90 percent
of his time, both at work and at home. His relaxation is watching videos
of his surgery, looking to see what he might be able to improve.
I asked him if SuperSight were now an obsession and Dr.
Somchai stopped for a minute before answering. “This makes me sad.
Everyone around me, and my family, helps me. What am I doing for them?”
That is a question that only Dr. Somchai can answer, with his family now
one more with a two week old daughter, but the testimonials he receives
from happy patients shows what he is doing for some of the world’s
visually impaired is very much appreciated.
Dr. Somchai Trakoolshokesatian, the eye artist, is a remarkable man.