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NEWS & MEDIA

TILLMAN TUESDAY: Tillman Scholar Thien Ho Finds Purpose in the Fight Against PTSD

Pat Tillman Foundation Communitcations   |   By Jill Walsh, Communications Manager   |   June 28, 2016

Pat Tillman Foundation can’t fulfill its mission to empower military veterans and their spouses without the generosity of our supporters across the country. Nationwide, over 400 Tillman Scholars are striving to impact our country and communities through their studies in medicine, law, business, policy, science, education and the arts. Every “Tillman Tuesday,” we are committed to highlighting the individual impact of a Tillman Scholar, focusing on their success in school, career and community—all thanks to your support. This week we learn more about 2015 Tillman Scholar and U.S. Army veteran Thien Ho who currently has one more year of medical school remaining as he is working towards a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree. Currently a student at Pacific Northwest University, Thien has an interest in surgery but also wants to focus on care for individuals suffering from PTSD.

WHY DID YOUR FAMILY DECIDE TO VENTURE TO THE UNITED STATES AND HOW WAS THE TRANSITION FOR THEM COMING FROM VIETNAM?

“My family was given very few options at the end of the Vietnam War – it was either serve in the Vietnamese Socialist military, go to jail, or worse; they were living in a very dire situation. They ultimately decided to come to the U.S. without knowing much and having little guidance on customs and traditions such as Halloween, Valentine’s Day and things like that – they learned as they went.

There were a lot of challenges along the way and we were fortunate enough to receive some government assistance. I am very proud of my family in the fact that when my mom started working alongside my dad, we were able to get by on our own and no longer needed the help.

My parents didn’t have experience when it came to formal higher education and therefore didn’t know how to guide us, so we figured it out on our own. I chose to go to the same college where my brother was so we would be at the same place and my parents could visit us at the same time. I ended up going to Chico State University and earning my bachelor’s degree in biological science.”

WHAT WAS YOUR MOTIVATION BEHIND JOINING THE MILITARY?

“When I went to Washington D.C. for my internship, I discovered there’s something more to life than going to school and getting a job. Seeing the history of how America was made and all that was sacrificed for, it compelled me to join the military. Part of it was my way of giving back to America but I also wanted to help protect our way of life.”

SERVING FOUR DEPLOYMENTS, TO INCLUDE IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN, WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE LIKE AS A COMBAT MEDIC?

“Everyone in my unit was on the front lines fighting no matter their job.  The challenging part is when you get a call in which someone has been injured, it’s very difficult to transition. On one side you want to keep fighting while on the other side you need to tend to someone that has been hurt. What helped me was to not freeze and to keep moving, meaning things just start happening on autopilot and become reactionary. A friend once told me that soldiers do not rise to the occasion but rather fall back to the basics during times of stress. I always remember that, and it’s crazy because doing the simple things really do save lives.”

WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF DURING YOUR NEARLY 10 YEARS SERVING ACTIVE DUTY AND OVER TWO YEARS WITH THE NATIONAL GUARD?

“When I enlisted in the military I didn’t tell anybody, not even my parents. I knew people wouldn’t understand especially since the world was at war. But when I started my training, I met so many others that gave up everything they were doing to serve our country. It is really special being in an environment with such motivated individuals.”

WHAT DID YOU WITNESS FIRST HAND THAT HAS INSPIRED YOU TO DO WHAT YOU’RE DOING TODAY, WORKING TOWARDS YOUR DOCTOR OF OSTEOPATHIC MEDICINE?

“There’s a negative connotation behind PTSD and we have to look at it differently.  It’s like you either have the extreme PTSD symptoms or otherwise you are doing okay. What about everybody in-between? I believe that there is a broader spectrum to PTSD and through my medical education, my hope is to help bring it to surface.”

AFTER SERVING 9 YEARS ON THE ACTIVE DUTY SIDE, WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO SEPARATE FROM THE MILITARY AND SWITCH TO THE NATIONAL GUARD?

“I feel that becoming a doctor is a continuation of the work I did in the military and felt like a natural progression. However, I found myself realizing something was missing and I needed to fill that void in my life by staying connected with the military. Being in the military, even part time, has really helped me adjust to being a student.”

HOW DO YOU FEEL YOUR DOCTOR OF OSTEOPATHY DEGREE WILL HELP IN THE TREATMENT OF PTSD?

“It’s along the same lines why we need to rethink the way we test and treat PTSD in general. I feel the Osteopathic philosophy is to look more at the person rather than just the treatment. For example, if a person has a psychological illness and we treat him with medication, how do we know they will take the medication or if they desire to be treated at all? If we really dive down deep and see what’s going on then maybe we can make a better plan that will help the patient reach their goals. I feel what distinguishes Osteopathic medicine is thinking outside the box and making sure treatment plans are individualized. And that is how I want to practice medicine.”

WHAT IS YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM JOB?

“Although I do have a strong interest in working with PTSD, my dream job is to be a trauma surgeon, as that incorporates everything I’ve learned in the military – teamwork, relying on each other, accountability, etc. When you’re in the operating room, you work together as a unit and everyone plays a big role regardless of what it is. It is very similar to my experience in the military because as a leader, you take responsibility for everybody in that room so it’s up to you to provide guidance and inspire people to be on their game.”

WITH ONE YEAR OF SCHOOL LEFT, WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON THIS SUMMER?

“This summer I’m going to the Bronx for four weeks to work trauma surgery and then heading to Detroit to do the same. I sought these locations because of the cases I’ll see and I feel some of that exposure early on in my career will pay dividends for me in the long run. I don’t know, maybe I’ll end up working in those locations when I am done with school.”

WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR YOU TO BE A TILLMAN SCHOLAR, HAVING THE RESPONSIBILITY OF BEING ONE OF THE INDIVIDUALS SELECTED TO CARRY FORWARD PAT’S LEGACY?

“It has made me more humble. We know what a great person Pat Tillman was and to be named in the same sentence as him is something that I still can’t wrap my head around. It’s very empowering and every time I associate with being a Tillman Scholar I’m holding myself to a high standard, knowing I’m representing Pat’s legacy.”

ASIDE FROM THE FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE, WHAT HAS THE TILLMAN SCHOLARSHIP ENABLED YOU THE OPPORTUNITY TO ACCOMPLISH?

“The Tillman Foundation is the best example of networking I’ve ever seen in my life. I think the scholars together are creating something special and by working together, we will be that change that America needs. Plus, it is nice to know I have a support system I can turn to if I need help and knowing the Foundation and the other Tillman Scholars are there is the best part of the program.”

HAVING RECENTLY PARTICIPATED IN YOUR FIRST PAT’S RUN THIS PAST SPRING. WHAT WAS THAT EXPERIENCE LIKE FOR YOU KNOWING ALL THOSE INDIVIDUALS WERE THERE SUPPORTING THE PAT TILLMAN FOUNDATION AND ULTIMATELY SCHOLARS LIKE YOURSELF?

“So I was getting ready, pumping myself up before the run.  Then my friend pointed out that I was on the Jumbotron and then my story was introduced over the loud speakers. After that, people next to me started giving me high-fives and telling me how cool it was that I was a Tillman Scholar. It was great being surrounded by the tens of thousands of people who are there supporting us.”

AS FORMER CO-DIRECTOR OF THE YAKIMA HEALTH EQUITY FORUM, HOW IS THE ORGANIZATION DOING NOW?

“The Yakima Health Equity Forum is going strong, still led by medical students who partner with the community. Our goal is to address health disparities such as race, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status.

One of our programs works with second grader from a local elementary school where a majority of students receive free and reduced price lunch. We named it ‘Mini Medical School’ and the 2nd graders come visit our campus and learn a variety of science-related activities, including lessons with a microscope, and even participate in their own white coat ceremony. This is a great program because we not only work together with the elementary school students and provide exposure to science, but my medical colleagues also gain a better understanding of the health issues in our community.”