New ER doctor’s path to Craig included flight from homeland, stint in Iraq
Dr. Tinh Huyn, an emergency room doctor at The Memorial Hospital in Craig, is no stranger to pressure.
Huyn (pronounced win), a former U.S. Army major, spent a year-and-a-half in Tikrit, Iraq. There, he worked around the clock with four other physicians to patch up wounded U.S. soldiers, contractors, civilians and captured enemy soldiers.
Huyn’s deployment stretched from early 2003 through 2005, when the war was at its peak.
“We were basically there all the time,” Huyn said of the trauma room in Tikrit. “We caught naps whenever we could.”
But, wounded patients weren’t the only sources of pressure, Huyn said. The doctors also contended with incoming fire.
“When you’re in Iraq, you’re in a base and you’re basically surrounded,” Huyn said. “You don’t know if they’re your friends or foes. Constantly, every day, there’s shelling.
“I was lucky I didn’t get hit.”
Although luck may have gotten him out of Iraq in one piece, Huyn cites motivation for getting him where he is today.
He has worked in the TMH emergency room for more than a year as a locum tenens, or temporary employee.
As of Feb. 1, however, Huyn became the first full-time emergency room doctor at the hospital.
But, he said it was a hardscrabble road that led him to Craig.
Huyn was born in the midst of war in late-1960s Vietnam. When he was in his early teens, Huyn’s family fled to Malaysia in what was known as Vietnam’s “second wave” of refugees.
The first wave left the country after the fall of Saigon in 1975.
“The second wave was in the early ‘80s,” Huyn said. “Most people got out by boat, so we were referred to as ‘boat people’ back then.”
From Malaysia, Huyn and his sister migrated to the U.S. through a church’s sponsorship.
The siblings were due to arrive in Washington, D.C., but they only made it as far as Denver.
“We could have gone to Washington, but in the refugee camp there were a lot of rumors,” Huyn said. “That was not long after the Jonestown incident. There were a lot of rumors that you shouldn’t join any church, so we were really scared. We wanted to come to the States and have a new beginning, but at the same time, we were kind of scared.”
During a layover in Denver, the siblings left the airport.
“In Denver, there was a lot of confusion,” he said. “And, in the midst of the confusion, we ended up staying.”
Huyn said he and his sister contacted refugee liaisons in the city.
“They were former refugees, so we were able to communicate with them,” Huyn said. “One thing led to another. They helped us stay, they helped us find an apartment. My sister started working and I started school.”
Huyn was 15 or 16 years old, and he didn’t speak English. Nonetheless, he learned the language. Within a year, Huyn secured a scholarship through the University of Colorado in Boulder, and thus began an educational path that led him to become a doctor.
“Coming from a situation like that, I guess it gets you motivated,” Huyn said of his formative years.
In 1988, Huyn received an undergraduate degree in molecular biology. From there, he attended Chicago Medical School, where he earned a master’s in physiology, and later his doctorate.
Huyn’s education in Chicago was paid through a military scholarship. So, when he graduated, he entered the army.
Huyn trained for a year at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Aurora. Next, the Army sent Huyn to South Korea for a year, Hawaii for four years, and then to Germany.
From Germany, Huyn was deployed to Kosovo and Macedonia for two years.
Then in 2003, he was sent to Iraq.
“That was during a pick-up in the conflict, so it was pretty busy there,” Huyn said. “Tikrit was one of the areas where we saw a lot of casualties.
“We were constantly overwhelmed.”
Constantly overwhelmed, and constantly shelled by the enemy.
Huyn’s good fortune nearly ran out in Iraq.
One day, he was out on an airstrip for a morning jog.
“I remember seeing a flash, and I was out,” he said.
An enemy mortar had exploded about 10 meters over his head. Huyn suffered a concussion and ruptured both of his eardrums.
“So, I lost some hearing and initially I had some problems with my equilibrium,” he said. “But, that went away.
“But, to this day, I still have ringing in my ear.”
Huyn said he has no regrets about running that day.
“When we first went over there, they said, ‘You have to wear your body armor all the time. You have to sleep with your body armor,’” Huyn recalled. “But, you just can’t live like that. You just have to make up your mind that you’re not going to let it interfere with your daily routine.
“We just decided, ‘To hell with it. We’re not going to wear our body armor.’”
Jennifer Riley, chief of organizational excellence at TMH, said Huyn’s unflappable nature is an asset.
“Isn’t that the guy you want in the ER?” Riley said. “If you come in and you’ve got some massive trauma, you want someone who’s been in a situation like that, and it doesn’t freak him out.”
Riley said she was able to watch Huyn at work Sunday during an incident involving 24 patients with carbon monoxide exposure.
“He’s very calm,” Riley said. “Nothing appears to fluster the man.”
Huyn said he faced a challenging decision recently, however.
He was offered a position at a hospital in San Francisco at the same time he was offered a full-time job at TMH.
“I was debating which one to take, but I decided to stay here,” Huyn said. “I like the people in Craig, and I enjoy working here.”