ALS Advocate and Volunteer Dave Tran, M.D.
I was in high school when I found out my dad was diagnosed with ALS, at the age of 57. My father was a Vietnam War refugee who became an anesthesiologist. My earliest memory of his symptoms was hearing the change in his footsteps as he started using a cane. He progressed to using a wheelchair and eventually had a tracheostomy. I became his primary caregiver, which was an experience that changed my life.
I missed out on a lot of experiences as a teenager and young adult. I usually had more than one job at a time, never took vacations, and always studied hard. I used to drive 400 miles to check on him on weekends, until his death in 2004, during my second year of college. It was an extremely difficult time for me, as I struggled to stay in school and find ways to heal from the experience. I didn't have many job skills, so I began working a night job as a caregiver for someone with a disability. I also began volunteering as an office intern at the Golden West Chapter.
Volunteering with the Chapter provided an amazing opportunity to meet other people affected by ALS and be a part of a community that understood what I was going through. From 2005 to 2010, I volunteered hundreds of hours, and helped any way I could at the Walk to Defeat ALS and Ride to Defeat ALS events, and as an ALS advocate. These moments connected me to a community of people who understood what I had gone through. I made lifelong friends and met people who I still consider to be like family.
After completing my undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley, I went to medical school at UC Irvine and completed my residency in family medicine. I pursued my interests in inline skating and taekwondo. I fell in love and got married. When I graduated in 2014 and became a doctor, it was the moment that fulfilled a promise I made more than ten years before at my dad’s bedside.
I decided that my career path would involve serving underserved and under-researched communities at a global, national, and regional level. After completing a fellowship in Hospice and Palliative Care at UC San Diego, I now serve as the Department Chair for Palliative Care and Support Services at Palo Alto Medical Foundation. I continue to care for people with ALS and other serious illnesses as a physician, and work with my team to support their families as well.
Living through my family’s experiences with ALS taught me humility, empathy, and to find motivation to succeed even during the darkest of times. I am very blessed to have people who believe in me and remind me of my values. In each of the families I serve, I will always see characteristics of the people I love and the kindness and compassion they passed onto me.
I have a strong belief that hard times are opportunities to grow stronger, and I have always found comfort in helping others. I want to remind each of you that you are not alone - the Golden West Chapter and our ALS community are here to support you. May is ALS Awareness Month and I invite you to get involved and help increase awareness and support for everyone affected by the disease.
Dave L. Tran, MD
Department Chair, Palliative Care and Support Services, Palo Alto Medical Foundation