Darius M. Moshfeghi
Interview with Theodore Leng, MD, MS
Darius M. Moshfeghi, MD: Who has had the greatest influence on your career?
Theodore Leng, MD, MS: I have had many mentors and role models during my career, but my father, Vitt P. Leng, MD, has influenced me the most throughout my life. As a Thai immigrant who graduated from medical school in Bangkok, my father came to the United States to seek a better life like many others in the 1970s. He trained in internal medicine and cardiology in Newark, NJ, and after graduating, was the only cardiologist on staff at four hospitals in the city. As a young child, I was witness to his work ethic, his sharp intellect, and his amazing procedural skills. I still remember once when I was home during college break, my father got called about a patient in the Coronary Care Unit who needed emergent care. He brought me in with him and I watched in awe as he skillfully inserted a central line while teaching me about the landmarks he used to find the vessel, then threaded a pacemaker lead to the patient's heart, and saved the patient's life that night. Without his and my mother's guidance and support, I would not be where I am today. I am truly blessed.
Dr. Moshfeghi: What was the defining moment that led you to your field?
Dr. Leng: As a medical student at Stanford, I was fortunate to have Mark S. Blumenkranz, MD, as a mentor and role model. At the time, I was working in the laboratory on retinal pigment epithelium transplantation and performing the initial animal work on what was to become the PASCAL laser (Topcon Medical Laser Systems, Santa Clara, CA). I was so excited to be working on this cutting-edge technology, but the moment that really sealed the deal for me was when I got to observe Dr. Blumenkranz in the operating room and assist him in testing out his plasma-based cutting tool (PEAK) on a patient with proliferative vitreoretinopathy membranes. Seeing the direct impact of research and how it can translate from bench to bedside and into actual patients really did it for me.
Dr. Moshfeghi: What area of research in ophthalmology most interests you right now and why?
Dr. Leng: For the past few years I have been trying to bridge the gap between computer-based artificial intelligence and medicine. We live in a big data world, and it has become increasingly more difficult to synthesize the massive amounts of information we collect and deal with in the clinical setting. Physicians need better tools to assist us at the point of care, and in real time. I believe that the power of machine learning algorithms can help us analyze all of the data and make better diagnostic and treatment decisions for our patients.
Dr. Moshfeghi: What do you feel are the most positive aspects of practicing modern-day vitreoretinal surgery?
Dr. Leng: We can do so much more today than we could a decade ago for our retinal patients. We can make a real impact on their visual function and their overall quality of life. It is a privilege to be able to comfort, heal, and improve people's lives — and I feel this is just the beginning. There is so much innovation in pharmacology, instrumentation, devices, cell and gene therapies that the future looks very bright.
Dr. Moshfeghi: Have you ever been fortunate enough to witness or to have been part of medical history in the making? If so, please explain.
Dr. Leng: I was fortunate to be at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute just as the anti-vascular endothelial growth factor era began. Miami was at the epicenter of the bevacizumab (Avastin; Genetech, South San Francisco, CA) revolution, and it was a privilege to be there at the beginning working alongside with Philip J. Rosenfeld, MD, PhD, and Carmen A. Puliafito, MD, MBA, to witness the paradigm shift unfold.
Dr. Moshfeghi: What are your hobbies outside of practicing medicine?
Dr. Leng: Ever since I was 3 to 4 years old, I have been in and around airplanes. I started flying lessons when I was 14 and was a fully licensed private pilot at age 17. Since high school, I have obtained my instrument and multi-engine ratings and especially enjoy the challenge and joy of aerobatic flight. Learning the science, discipline, routines, and art to become a skilled aviator at a young age helped me to prepare for the rigors of the medical profession and vitreoretinal surgery. I have had the privilege of flying 39 different types of aircraft, but there are still some more on my bucket list. When time permits, I especially enjoy sharing the joys of flight with others and try to take any interested colleagues, medical students, residents, and fellows into the third dimension. I also volunteer my time with Angel Flight West, flying patients from remote locations to the Bay Area so they can obtain medical treatment.
Dr. Moshfeghi: What do you enjoy doing to relax?
Dr. Leng: I enjoy relaxing with my family, joking around with my two girls, cooking, and exercising.
Dr. Moshfeghi: What's up next for you?
Dr. Leng: I considered myself fortunate when I was hired as a faculty member at the Stanford University School of Medicine and have been helping to build our department by expanding our clinical and translational research program. Recently, I served as President of the Stanford Medicine Alumni Association Board of Governors, representing the interests of more than 26,000 Stanford Medicine alumni. As my career progresses, I look forward to growing our department, continuing to innovate, and taking on more leadership roles.