Questions for Dr. May Yeu Heu

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During the month of June, 2006 Dr. May Yeu Heu answered visitors' questions about body donation and bioethics in the Hmong tradition.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Do you practice western medicine or a more traditional hmong medicine? Is there such a thing?

posted on Tue, 06/06/2006 - 11:11am
May Yeu Heu's picture
May Yeu Heu says:

I practice Western medicine with a good understanding of traditional Hmong medicine. Understanding Hmong cultures and medicine also helps me understand very different cultures and how they view their illness. As a physician, listening to my patients, understanding their fears about Western medicine, or medicine in general allows me to educate them about their health and what it means to them. The most important tool in medicine is communicating your knowledge; being tri-lingual helps me in those aspects as well.

posted on Tue, 06/06/2006 - 9:37pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What age did you want to became a doctor? Do You enjoy your job?

posted on Thu, 06/08/2006 - 3:34pm
May Yeu Heu's picture
May Yeu Heu says:

I thought medicine was for me while I was in high school. The ability to heal others had always fascinated me. I wished to be a shaman when I was a child. Becoming a shaman is impossible unless you are chosen by the spirits. It was easier to become a physician.
I love what I am doing. Everyday is different. I am challenged with new cases daily. I am learning constantly, and I feel I am making a difference in my patients lives. I am fortunate to have a rewarding profession. I am thankful for being able to be in a position to help my patients improve their lives. I enjoy teaching and this has helped with educating my patients about their illness and about health.

posted on Wed, 06/14/2006 - 11:02pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Is it hard, being one of the first Hmong physicians? Are the others men or women?

posted on Mon, 06/12/2006 - 11:36am
May Yeu Heu's picture
May Yeu Heu says:

I believe there are at least a dozen Hmong physician in Northern America. I believe we encounter the same hardships physicians encounter. depending on the patient population, there are cultural barriers that all physicians must try to overcome. It can be challenging to be a Hmong physician at times. For instance the issue of "DNR" ( do not ressusitate) is a difficult issue to address and approach. It is not proper to talk about death or near death instance because of the superstitious fear that it may come true if voiced out loud.

My Hmong patients expect more from me, and I find it normal. Having the same background, I know where they are coming from and I know what they might or might not accept. It makes it easier for both parties.

posted on Mon, 06/19/2006 - 9:07pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Why do doctors need to practice on real cadavers? Isn't there some virtual technique that would work just as well?

posted on Mon, 06/12/2006 - 11:37am
May Yeu Heu's picture
May Yeu Heu says:

I believe that the learning process is different for people. Some need to hear it. Some need to see it. Others need to have a feel for it. The more sense you use to learn something, it becomes easier to appreciate and remember. For the very complicated human body, I don't know how else I would have learned the anatomy. Virtual techniques are only images, the cadavers offer a more concrete learning experience.

I remember for our cadaver, we gave him a name and said a thank you prayer to allow his body to be used. As medical students, we were able to disect different muscles and muscle groups and see how they function as a unit. Each organ was viewed at different angles to understand its complexity. After learning from anatomy books, I thought I was ready to identify many structures on the human cadaver. But, it was very frustrating on the actual cadaver; identifying the arteries, veins and nerves was extremely difficult. What you see in the exhibit, are more perfect examples of human bodies. In real life, our cadavers are fat, thin, old, and the anatomy varies. Virtual technique is another learning modality that I would add to the cadavers, but truly: Would you trust a surgeon who practice solely on a virtual body from a computer?

posted on Tue, 06/13/2006 - 12:04am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I'm just wondering: you say you wouldn't want to donate your body to science. Would you donate your organs? Would you accept organs if you needed them? Why or why not?

posted on Mon, 06/12/2006 - 11:38am
May Yeu Heu's picture
May Yeu Heu says:

I don't believe my family would allow me to donate my organs, even if I allowed it. It is hard to ignore all the cultures and religion of the Hmong when you grow up in it; the same goes for any religion. In my culture, we leave the dead intact, so that they are well in their next life. I would rather donate some of my organs while I am alive.

Accepting an organ is different. For example: Kidney transplants in Hmong people is an option, only when death may seem imminent. Most people including myself, would accept a donor's organ in those condition.

posted on Mon, 06/12/2006 - 11:47pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What's the hardest part about your job? The easiest? The best? The worst?

posted on Mon, 06/12/2006 - 11:39am
May Yeu Heu's picture
May Yeu Heu says:

The most difficult part of medicine is having to treat patients with conditions that do not have objective findings. As a doctor we always approach a patient who has a specific complaint by systematically eliminating from the most common condition to the rarest one. Remaining patient and maintaining a sense of compassion toward a person that persevere in the belief that they are ill can be exausting and an emotionally drainning task.

The easiest part of medicine is to treat a patient who cares more for themselves than you care for them. These patients are usually responsible, goal oriented, and only need your knowlegde and guidance.

posted on Mon, 06/19/2006 - 9:11pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I see a lot of stories in the newspaper about the need for more Hmong funeral homes. What's a traditional Hmong funeral service like?

posted on Mon, 06/12/2006 - 11:41am
May Yeu Heu's picture
May Yeu Heu says:

The ceremonies of life: birth, weddings, anniversaries are important to all cultures. In my culture, the funeral rites are one of the most important ceremonies to ensure the soul arrives with food, clothing, money, to his/her afterlife. We believe that a person has 3 souls, one that remains with the buried body, one that joins his/her ancestors for the afterlife and one that will be reborn. Location of burial grounds, day of burial and duration of burial-which is determine by birthday and by an elder, are all aspects that now have been put aside because of lack of space to perform those rites appropriately.
The wait time to have a funeral for a Hmong person in MN is up to a month! Not enough funeral homes, and not enough funeral homes allowed?- I am not sure.
The Hmong funeral requires the deceased dress appropriately, usually in designated clothing. As soon as this is done, a chosen person will start to chant a song to guide the deceased's soul back to their homeland. This song describes the journey the soul will undertake to locate our place of origin where their ancestors and deceased parents await them. They will also use a bamboo mouthpiece, a traditional instrument used in happy and sad times, to guide the soul back home. There also needs to be a gong as part of the ceremony. This last for 3-4 days in America. It can last up to 10 days in Thailand or Laos, though this is rare.
This ceremony requires the sacrifices of cows and pigs for the deceased to take with them to the afterlife. Spiritual moneys will be burn to follow the deceased to take with them, so they will be prosperous in the afterlife. There are designated cooks and ushers to care for the many guests expected to pay their last respect before burial.

posted on Wed, 06/14/2006 - 5:06pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I know doctors and researchers use human cadavers for anatomy classes and surgical practice. Are there any other, maybe unexpected uses for human cadavers?

posted on Mon, 06/12/2006 - 11:42am
May Yeu Heu's picture
May Yeu Heu says:

Tissue and organ donation is the only thing that comes to mind.

posted on Mon, 06/19/2006 - 9:08pm
trista's picture
trista says:

Do you know of any other religions that are not ok with body donation?

posted on Fri, 06/16/2006 - 2:03pm
May Yeu Heu's picture
May Yeu Heu says:

I am not sure.

posted on Tue, 06/20/2006 - 7:48pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

When did the traditions of the hmong get started? what would happen if a person disobeyed their families wishes and donated organs etc?

posted on Fri, 06/16/2006 - 4:06pm
May Yeu Heu's picture
May Yeu Heu says:

The Hmong tradition is over 2000 years old, we are a native tribe from China. Our cultural songs such as the one we sing to guide the dead back to their homeland does indicate that we come from a possibly cold climate where there is snow. The song also describes days and nights that are very long like in the north pole.

Body donation is a new concept to the Hmong. Back in our homeland, illness were related to our soul being lost, or a demonic illness possessing our body. Our doctors were and still are Shaman. Western medicine is usually a last or alternative resort. The mainstay of medicine is from the medicine men from our culture- the shaman. There were and are no need back in Laos or even Thailand for body donations, because we left the dead intact. Since we believe in reincarnation, there is a fear that after donating an organ in this lifetime, you may be reborn without it in your next life. Such would be the fear our parents would have for us, should we donate our body or organ.

I suspect that since Western medicine is becoming more acceptable, our concept toward organ donation may change. Science and medicine are saving lives and Hmong people are accepting these ideas-We as physician have to take the time to explain these concepts so that it will no longer become an unknown.

posted on Tue, 06/20/2006 - 8:14pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I see Hmong with pieces of string tied around their wrists - I know it has something to do with traditional Hmong medicine, but I don't know what. Could you explain that, please?

posted on Sat, 06/17/2006 - 8:56am
May Yeu Heu's picture
May Yeu Heu says:

The white strings around our wrist are good wishes from families and friends. They are given during certain ceremonies: one month after every Hmong child is born, their soul is welcomed with a family gathering where a chicken is sacrificed. Then we do wrist tying with white strings to give him blessing. Similar ceremonies are done on couples who get married, people who are sick, people who graduate from high school or college. Sometimes, visitors from afar may be given a party by their Hmong host or family and wrist tying is done. Usually, before the relatives tie the white strings, an elder blesses the white strings with his many words of wisdom. The white strings usually represent a bundle of good luck, good health, and wisdom.

posted on Mon, 06/19/2006 - 9:33pm
 juan's picture
juan says:

I know in Japan a lot of kids watch Anime but what do Hmong kids do for fun that is unique to their culture?

posted on Wed, 06/21/2006 - 12:16pm
May Yeu Heu's picture
May Yeu Heu says:

Hmong kids love to watch Anime in America for fun. In Thailand and Laos, there are no toys for children, they have each other and play house with one another. At age 7 -8 years old, girls and boys learn how to cook and clean and babysit.

posted on Tue, 06/27/2006 - 2:38pm
catherine's picture
catherine says:

If the Hmong believe that it's not spiritually okay to have foreign procedures done to the body, what is their perspective on vaccinations?

posted on Wed, 06/21/2006 - 4:49pm
May Yeu Heu's picture
May Yeu Heu says:

Fear of the unknown is what keeps Hmong people or people from conforming. Vaccinations are becoming more acceptable, even if they are "invasive". Communicating the goals of vaccines to Hmong patients and new refugees is an important task. Educating families about the preventive measures of vaccinations can be time consuming but rewarding. Even older adults are coming to my clinic to get vaccinated before traveling back to Thailand or Laos. Now that more families are getting vaccinated, and no bad outcomes resulted, it is more acceptable.

posted on Tue, 06/27/2006 - 3:40pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

In traditional Hmong medicine, can you explain the loss of souls as the cause for illness?

posted on Mon, 06/26/2006 - 1:47pm
May Yeu Heu's picture
May Yeu Heu says:

In Hmong cultures, if you are sick, your soul may have wandered off or a demonic spirit may have led your soul away. Therefore, we do a soul calling or the shaman goes into the spiritual world to see why or what happened to the person's soul. After the shaman discusses with the "greater spirits", then a ceremony is done to heal the person called "ua neeb" (oua neng) where a sacrifice of a cow, pig, or sheep is made. The animal is suppose to replace the soul, so the soul can safely return home.

posted on Tue, 07/04/2006 - 11:35am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

This question may seem naïve, but do you know why so many Hmong have relocated to Minnesota?

posted on Mon, 06/26/2006 - 1:59pm
May Yeu Heu's picture
May Yeu Heu says:

I believe because of the economy, more blue collar jobs available as compared to other states and the lower crime rate overall.

posted on Tue, 07/04/2006 - 11:25am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Is it hard, being a first generation Hmong born in the US? How hard are the differences between American culture and traditions and Hmong culture and traditions to handle?

posted on Mon, 06/26/2006 - 2:05pm
May Yeu Heu's picture
May Yeu Heu says:

I am not a first generation, I am "the migrant" generation, I was born in Laos and came here with my family. Although it must be hard for first generation Hmong to adjust: Compare to the migrant generation, the first generation have it pretty good because their parents, older siblings, would have adapted already to the American society. The first generation would have to adapt to the new American language, but that being done early in childhood would be easier. We actually worry that our first generation loose the Hmong language proficiency because they are so encourage to speak English.
Hmong cultures are more family orientated as compared to American cultures which focus more on individuals. In Hmong cultures, young teenager girls are not allowed to go out, usually: i.e.: no sleep overs, no hanging out with friends espeically after hours or after school, no going to the malls or movies unless under adult supervisions. Our parents are considered strict in the American culture, but in our culture, that's normal. Each Hmong families treat their children slightly differently; cultures have slight variations amongst each families.
The teenage years can be the most difficult for both cultures, therefore being exposed to both at the same time can be a hardship for the child and the parents. In Laos and Thailand, the family farms; the children have a short childhood, as they become teenagers, they have adult responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, farming, babysitting. If their parents have money they will be sent to school. If not, survival is most important and involves working and farming, to be able to afford a meal for the day. Education is a priviliege. In America, a child is introduced to Amercican culture at school and Hmong culture and language at home. They have to be able to understand their parent's language and the teacher's language at the same time. It's very difficult, but thousands of other children do the same with different cultures as well. I hope this helps answer your question.

posted on Tue, 06/27/2006 - 10:10pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

How do you know if you have skin cancer?

posted on Thu, 06/29/2006 - 10:37am
May Yeu Heu's picture
May Yeu Heu says:

Skin cancer is unfortunately becoming more common! The sun can be very damaging to any skin causing blemishes, aging and worse, skin cancer: so all of you please wear sunblock of at least SPF 15, and re-apply on your face, body, and lips.
These are the basics of skin cancer: A-look for lesions with Asymmetry-half of the skin lesion is different from the other half. B-check the Borders of the lesion, the more irregular borders C-look for different Colors within the lesion D-Diameter of greater than 6mm or the size of a pencil eraser.
Avoid sunburns, which already mean skin damage and increase your risk of skin cancer. Know your basics as above. If you have suspicious lesions-go see your doctor. Skin cancer has a high cure rate if detected early.

posted on Wed, 07/05/2006 - 11:16pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Hmong people have probably died without the rites of burial performed. Is it a belief that they will never be at peace? Or is there a way they can find what they are looking for?

posted on Thu, 06/29/2006 - 12:54pm
May Yeu Heu's picture
May Yeu Heu says:

The souls of the people who die without proper rites in our cultures cannot join their ancestors or be reborn. It is believed that the person's soul will haunt and curse the people who has caused them death, until they are sent properly to the afterlife. Usually we know of these improper burial through the shaman. Sometimes, the person's own family may get sick and the shaman will "speak the the higher spirits" and find out that the family's relative from long ago had an inappropriate burial. So the family will sometimes have to make a proper burial so the soul will be free to be reborn and join the ancestors.

posted on Thu, 08/10/2006 - 7:00am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What do you think the Science Museum of Minnesota's goal is for Body Worlds is? Are they teaching a lesson?

posted on Tue, 07/04/2006 - 3:47pm
May Yeu Heu's picture
May Yeu Heu says:

Knowledge is for the curious. The people that walk into the Science Museum have that kind of curiosity that most scientist have; they want to explore their own interest. When you go into a park or embark on a trip, the lesson is to enjoy those things that you see. All science museums have similar goals in mind, that to enlighten. The Body World exhibit is not for everyone, it's only there for those who have the interest-from what I have heard, they have enjoyed it greatly

posted on Thu, 08/10/2006 - 7:01am