Synergy in relations and medicine

By Nina Solarz  / 

Tue, Apr 12, 2016 - Page 8

On April 3, Hsiao Shih-hsin (蕭世欣), a Taiwanese physician at Taipei Medical University who also holds a doctorate, arrived in Washington to begin a two-year research fellowship at the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of the most prestigious governmental research institutions in the world. The story of Hsiao’s odyssey began many decades ago when then US representative Stephen Solarz became chairman of the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs.

During the 1980s, my late husband, Stephen Solarz (Steve), and other members of the US House and Senate assisted members of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA) and Taiwanese living in exile in the US, to bring democracy to Taiwan through the cessation of martial law and acceptance of opposition political parties. By 2000, a member of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party was elected president.

About 10 years ago, Steve was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and was accepted for treatment at NIH. Even after exceptional care and state-of-the-art treatment protocols, four-and-a-half years later he succumbed to the disease. My family and I, and his many friends, decided to establish a memorial fund at the Foundation for NIH in Steve’s memory to help research for potential cures for cancer and to thank Steve’s fabulous doctors at the NIH for his care.

For four years, the Stephen J. Solarz Memorial Fund has been supporting the research of David Schrump, an incredible surgeon who was primarily responsible for Steve’s medical care while he was battling his illness. This research has yielded ground-breaking results in immunotherapy wherein the immune system is stimulated to fight cancer.

As part of the fund’s activities we decided to carry on Steve’s consuming interest in the field of international affairs by selecting worthy young doctors from places where Steve had concentrated his attentions.

These promising researchers and doctors come to work at NIH as fellows in the research laboratory with Schrump. The fellowships are two-year, fully funded grants designed to teach the most advanced research techniques to highly qualified young physicians or doctoral graduates so that they can return to their own countries and use their newly acquired knowledge to benefit their communities.

Remembering vividly Steve’s affinity for Taiwan and his strong ties to the Taiwanese community in the US and his friends in Taiwan, my son and grand-daughter and I visited Taipei a year-and-a-half ago. I had returned to Taiwan myself about two years before, my first visit there in many years, when FAPA president and legislator Chai Trong-rong (蔡同榮) organized events to honor Steve’s memory.

In 2014, when we went to Taiwan as a family, our trip was with the intention of possibly awarding one of the Stephen Solarz Memorial Fellowships to a worthy, young Taiwanese doctor.

Before we left for Taiwan, I was in touch with old friends and colleagues of Steve’s, one of whom was Tsai Wan-tsai (蔡萬財), then chairman of the Fubon Group. It was my hope to inform our old friends about the fellowship and secure their assistance in identifying suitable candidates and support. The reaction I received was touching and reaffirming.

Unfortunately, by the time we arrived in Taipei, Tsai had passed away, but his son Daniel Tsai (蔡明忠) most graciously arranged for us to meet with other members of the family, as well as senior associates in some of Fubon’s companies and institutions. We also had many wonderful meetings and social events with friends — both new and old — physicians, heads of medical schools and hospitals, and even potential candidates for the fellowship.

We came to the conclusion that we had struck gold in Taiwan to offer the next Stephen Solarz Fellow. We visited first-rate hospitals and medical schools. During this first visit, we met with extremely well-qualified doctors; we returned to Taiwan with Schrump several months later to actually begin the recruitment and interview process to choose our first fellow and secure support.

And herein lies the tale, not only were we successful in finding Hsiao among the many extremely worthy candidates Schrump interviewed, but at subsequent meetings with the Tsai family and Fubon chairman Jason Yuan (袁健生) — who is head of the Fubon Cultural and Educational Foundation and was a friend and close colleague of my husband’s when Yuan was the Taiwanese representative in Washington — we learned that Fubon had generously decided to fully support Hsiao’s two-year fellowship at the National Institutes of Health.

We were on our way to achieving our goal of seeing the first Taiwanese Stephen Solarz fellow at NIH.

And next week, Hsiao is scheduled to join researchers in Schrump’s laboratory at NIH to learn the most advanced medical research techniques in the world. How very fitting it is that this would occur on the anniversary of the enactment of the Taiwan Relations Act, which has served as the cornerstone of US-Taiwan relations for the past 37 years.

Nina Solarz is the wife of former US representative Stephen Solarz.