“Dr Sommai Tongprasert MD: The Miracle Doctor Who Triumphed Over Cancer”
The title “Miracle Doctor” is excessive praise. I am grateful to those who gave me their trust and lives to treat them, as well as their word of mouth, that has made the name Dr Sommai well known in Singburi and nearby provinces. Presently, there are also a great number of patients from overseas seeking treatment from me.
I was born in Singburi province on 27 December 1921. I am presently 89 years old. My parents had seven children, me being the fifth child. My father’s name was Kimsid and my mother Pimsen Tongprasert. My eldest brother was Professor Major Dr Prachak Tongprasert, the former Director General of Siriraj Hospital. My second eldest brother was Sanguan Tongprasert, and he was a student of His Excellency Pridi Panomyong.
My third and fourth siblings, both elder sisters, were married and became housewives. My younger sister is still alive. My younger brother, the seventh child, was in the army and was educated at Vajirawudh College. Today there remain only three of us: my third sister, who is currently 95 years old, and my younger sister, aged 84. The rest of the family has already passed away.
My family only supported the idea of education for the boys and would not pay for the girls’ schooling. My oldest brother was the first student from Singburi to attend school in Bangkok. He received the Rockefeller Scholarship to attend school at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the USA.
I was educated at St. Peter's Boarding School in Bangkok (which was where the Singer Company building is located now) from 1928 to 1935, until Mor. 5 . I finished my last three years of high school (Mor. 6-8) at Amnuysilpa School (Pak Khlong Talad). My year was the school’s last year before it was changed to Triam Udom Suksa School, where Khun Cha-um Punjapan had student ID No. 1 at Triam Udom. With the help of my brother’s financial support, I studied and graduated from Chulalongkorn University in the Pharmaceutical Department with the highest grade (gold medal) and started teaching there for one year, according to their rules.
There were no other medical schools available at that time besides Siriraj. I studied to be a physician and continued my education at Siriraj Hospital’s Faculty of Medicine, and then worked as a general practitioner in the Surgical Division at the hospital. As a matter of fact, I was familiar with life at Siriraj since I was a child. From the age of seven or eight years old, I would stay with my brother at Siriraj Hospital during the school breaks, but most of the time I was with the nurses since my brother had to work. In 1928, Siriraj was still in the countryside with only five buildings with some second-hand tents serving as operating rooms.
Between my third and fourth year of medical school, I developed an interest in studying about cancer, because, although surgery could easily treat some other illnesses, treating cancer was rather difficult, whether by surgery or chemotherapy. Since I was a pharmacist, before attending medical school, I felt that doing research in herbal medicine might help in finding the cure to cancer. Still, I was only a junior doctor and was unable to suggest my ideas.
Furthermore, I continuously felt that, in this world, diseases exist because of nature but nature must have given a cure for them as well, for example, using Singkona (plant) to treat malaria or the Digitalis leaves for heart problems. When animals (such as cats or dogs) are sick, they eat grass and vomit in order to cure themselves in a balance of nature. Yet humans, especially in regards to western medicine, rarely think about it and instead spend most of their efforts in search of chemical solutions.
While attending medical school at Siriraj, I utilized my knowledge of pharmaceuticals by working at some drugstores in order to support myself while studying to be a physician. I eventually graduated in 1951.
Once I finished school, I went to work at the Red Cross (Sathan Saowapha) for one year. I was curious and interested in working on the vaccination and serum for rabies. After that one year, I returned and worked as a surgeon at Siriraj Hospital for two more years. At that time, there was no position for me as a staff member, except in the Osteological Division, which was not my preferred field.
Personally, I would have preferred to have a position with a title instead of being just an employee, but it was difficult to find that type of job during those days. So, I worked there as an employee with a monthly salary of Baht 700 Baht (US$24.50). At that time, 23k gold (96.5% pure) cost Baht 60 (US$2.10) per ½ troy ounce. [Gold has increased in price more than 317 fold since so current equivalent salary would be about US$7,700/month or slightly more than US$93,000/year.]
I intended to return to Singburi after finishing my education because my mother lived there alone. She was getting on in age and had nobody to take care of her. My father had passed on since 1935.
Founder of Thailand's First Blood Bank
While working as a surgeon in the Surgical Division of Siriraj Hospital, my brother, who was both the Director General and the Head of the Surgical Division, had entrusted me with the job of finding blood for all our patients who needed operations. My job was to acquire whatever amount of blood each instructor requested, and to find out if that blood matched with the patient. If the blood did not match, the patient would die, even if they were the same blood group, but a different Rh+ve or Rh-ve.
In Asia, there was only 0.03% of Rh-ve type blood, therefore, from time to time, the Thai Red Cross would make announcements asking for blood donations (Rh-ve). In order to find that type of blood at the time, we used the hospital’s funds to buy blood from medical students and workers in the hospital at the rate of Baht 200 per unit. In comparison with the gold price of 60 Baht per one Baht weight, you could see that blood was a great deal more expensive than gold.
In addition, they did not have public relations to get blood donations like today. I told my brother that using the hospital funds to buy blood like this would drain our resources since we needed to spend large amounts of money every day. My brother then gave me the position of blood bank founder. Nobody wanted to donate any blood, exceptions being when the patients’ families came along. On these occasions we would check to see if their blood matched with that of the patients. If so, we would collect their blood to use for the operation.
For that reason, I asked my brother to contact the Corrections Department, requesting to exchange prisoners’ blood for necessities, such as medication. I spent Friday of every week traveling to the prison in order to collect blood from their inmates and was finally able to set up the blood bank. The method of collecting and checking blood was very complicated, so I will not go into detail here. In summary, Siriraj Hospital’s blood bank was established in 1953, and the hospital did not have to buy anymore blood from then on.
Modernization of Thailand's Police Hospital
While traveling back to Siriraj, I met at the river pier Dr Uthai Sriarun, an alumnus who was my upperclassman. Later, he was promoted to Police Lieutenant General. He asked me where I was heading. I told him that I would be returning to Siriraj Hospital to take the position in the Osteological Division. He said he would like for me to join him at the Police General Hospital. I agreed. Actually, if I went to work at Siriraj, I would have retired at the age of 60 and would not be fighting cancer today.
Once at the Police Hospital, I found out that they lacked just about everything. I had to prepare all the equipment until we were able to operate there. At that time, the Police Hospital was a part of the Royal Police Department. I worked until I was appointed a police captain when I heard that a hospital was being built in Singburi.
I went to discuss with my superior that I would like a transfer to the Singburi hospital once construction was finished. My superior refused: “You have been here for only a few months but have brought so many developments to the Police Hospital. I won’t allow you to go.” However, my need to return home was greater. In December, I left a resignation letter and went to Singburi without saying goodbye.