Originally published in the Union College Magazine, Spring 2013
Hepatitis B in the Asian communities is a silent disease that often isn’t detected until it’s too late. Dr. Loc T. Le ’84 is out to change that.
A gastroenterologist in Baltimore, Md., Dr. Le has just been named to a two-year term as chairman of the National Task Force on Hepatitis B, which focuses on education, research and intervention among Asian and Pacific Islander populations in the U.S. He also will advocate for screening and vaccination among the high-risk populations.
Most of those in the high-risk groups don’t know they have Hepatitis B until up to 80 percent of the liver is damaged or they develop liver cancer, Dr. Le said. Those in high risk groups need to be tested, and education is key.
Education is something that comes naturally from Dr. Le’s upbringing.
Born in 1961 in Quang Tri, a small town on the border of North and South Vietnam, his early education was poor and frequently interrupted by the war. But his parents, Thi and Dong Nguyen Le, put a premium on education for their 10 children.
The family fled Vietnam in 1975 and came to New York state under the sponsorship of a family in Cobleskill. The family settled in Schenectady, and Loc — though previously lacking a formal education or familiarity with English—graduated with the top of his class from Linton High School in 1980. He followed his older brother, Phuoc, to Union where he graduated with honors in 1984 with degrees in mathematics and biology. Also at Union, he earned the Bruce M. Garber Prize for the premedical student who exemplifies integrity and humane concern. Two younger brothers also graduated from Union, Thu T. Le in 1989, and Phu To Le in 1992.
He earned his M.D. degree from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in 1988. He completed his internship and residency at the Johns Hopkins Hospital/Sinai Hospital in Baltimore where he received the Best Resident of the Year Award in 1989 and 1991.
Dr. Le was chairman of the Division of Gastroenterology and director of endoscopy at Harbor Hospital of Baltimore in 1998-2004. He also had a part-time appointment as a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1995-2012, and as instructor in medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1995-2005. As a teaching faculty at Sinai Hospital and Harbor Hospital, he received the Golden Apple “Best Teacher of the Year” Award in 1996 and 1998.
Today, Dr. Le is a senior partner at Woodholme Gastroenterology Associates with several offices in and around Baltimore. He and his wife have three children.
Hepatitis B among Asians is different from the Hepatitis B among the general population in the U.S., Dr. Le explains. Within Hepatitis B, there are eight subtypes, two of which—more prevalent among Asians—are more difficult to treat. Without screening, prevention and treatment—especially at birth when the immune system is weak—patients can take on Hepatitis B, which can develop into cancer or cirrhosis of the liver by age 40.
Among the general American population, the disease, normally transmitted between young adults in their late teens or early twenties, is usually transient and rarely becomes chronic.
He wants to aggressively advocate the CDC guidelines for Hepatitis B screening and vaccination in the high risk populations in the U.S., namely the Asians and the Pacific Islanders.
Dr. Le says he wants to make a real difference in the lives of people, and is very busy reaching out to the media, politicians, NGOs, CDC, NIH, drug companies, community activists, college students, and other physicians. He is forming a panel of advisors to help carry out the difficult mission of the Task Force in reducing Hepatitis B infection in Asian and Pacific Islanders in the U.S.