She’s raced dirt bikes, motorcycles and cars, works on her motorcycles and likes tools and fixing things – especially people. It’s no wonder then that Dr. Ada Cheung, a surgeon at KVH Orthopedics, loves what she does.
“You can actually make people better and improve their lives – and I like working with my hands,” she says flashing a smile. “You get a chance to work with your hands and be creative.”
Born in Cleveland and raised in Alberta, Canada, she was still a child when her father, an economist, and her mother, a teacher, suggested she consider a career in medicine. But orthopedic surgery wasn’t her first choice.
“What I originally thought was I wanted to be a vet,” says Cheung. “Then I discovered I was allergic to a lot of animals so that wouldn’t work.”
It was at Stanford University, where Cheung studied medical microbiology, that she fell in love with surgery while doing research involving heart surgery on pigs. Then came medical school at Yale and the chance to explore different specialties. Orthopedic surgery – a field that has the ability to change lives in dramatic ways – drew her.
After a residency at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, she went into practice in California and later practiced in Arizona and Virginia. Eventually, she and her family moved to the Northwest, settling on Mercer Island. “We wanted to move before my son got too far along in school,” says Cheung, whose son, now 19, is a student at Stanford.
In 2011, Cheung joined Multicare in Auburn where she practiced for seven years. But that changed this summer when she moved to KVH Orthopedics, lured by Dr. Gary Bos, a longtime acquaintance who taught at UNC while she was there. “I kept on seeing Dr. Bos once a year at these orthopedic meetings,” she says. “He told me, ‘This is the best job I’ve ever had. You have to come.'”
She’s glad she did.
“It’s a nice community, a nice hospital and the people seem happy here,” says Cheung who plans to practice “five days a week, a couple of times a month” while continuing to live on Mercer Island. It’s a location that puts her closer to her elderly parents now living in Vancouver, B.C.
The schedule may give Cheung, a petite woman with a quiet, focused demeanor, a little more time for other interests. She’s long had a passion for racing motorcycles and cars. “I used to race dirt bikes when I was back East,” she says. “Then I saw there was a school where you learn how to ride a motorcycle on a track so I took that.” She eventually moved on to include “open wheel” car racing her repertoire.
Despite retiring from motorcycle racing in 2001, she still owns several motorcycles including a 1995 Ducati sport bike and a 1978 Yamaha that she restored. And she still races “open wheel” cars three or four times a year though not as often as she did back east where there were more tracks.
The races, run not on Nascar-style ovals but on paved courses set up to look like winding country roads, are less about speed than they are about cornering and handling.
Why the fascination with life in the fast lane? “I like stuff that has wheels and a motor,” she says, smiling.
She also likes seeing lives change for the better – and she’s seen that plenty of times. “It’s good to see people – especially people in bad shape – who you can help get back to a normal life,” she says. “That’s the thing I like best. You see people who come in on crutches and you help them walk again.”
Want to know more? See Dr. Cheung’s medical education and clinic information here.