Dr. Andy C. Chiou, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S., has studied and trained in the medical field all over the country and the world. So when it was finally time to settle down to one place, he chose to come back to his hometown of Peoria to continue his medical career.
According to Chiou, he is a “homegrown product of Peoria and District 150,” having grown up and attended school in Peoria. He attended Richwoods High School while taking summer classes at Illinois Central College and Bradley University. After graduating from high school, Chiou enrolled in a six-year combined BA/MD program at Boston University. During medical school, he took evening classes to obtain his master’s degree in public health (health care administration).
Chiou then trained for 8 years at Cornell and Northwestern universities in the fields of general and vascular surgery. “My original intention was to become a primary care doctor and take care of the many complex aspects of the health care needs of a community,” he said.
After his medical training, Dr. Chiou served four years of active duty in the United States Air Force, finishing as a Lieutenant Colonel and Chief of Vascular Surgery for their flagship hospital in San Antonio, Texas. “I was awarded with an Air Force scholarship to help pay for my medical school training at Boston University,” he said. “I served a total of 16 years – 12 years in the reserves and the last four years on active duty, assigned to the 59th Medical Wing at Lackland Air Force Base, near San Antonio, Texas. I served as the chief of vascular surgery, advisor to our commanding general, and on a forward surgical team. Our squadron and group have served in both humanitarian missions and combat medical support missions throughout the world and in the United States.”
Through his time spent in the service, he obtained more than just the benefits of further medical training. “It was in the military that I met my wife, Laurie,” Chiou said. “We were both sent to Montgomery, Alabama for boot camp. Our years in the military were filled with activity. The global war on terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan made it a very busy and thought-provoking experience.”
In July 2004, Chiou returned to Peoria, joining the Peoria Surgical Group and Peoria Vein Center as Director of Surgical Research, Director of Endovascular Surgery and vascular surgeon. The Peoria Surgical Group was founded in 1952 and is one of the oldest and largest multi-specialty surgical groups south of Chicago. The Peoria Vein Center is a relatively new division of Peoria Surgical, as there was a shortage of vascular specialists in the area.
“There are very few specialists in our region that have a strong focus on the treatment of veins, but one out of four women and one out of six men have varicose vein problems,” Chiou said. “Most people ignore early signs and symptoms of vein problems for years, until a more major problem arises. For that reason, we have had a major community education campaign running for the last two years to help people have a greater understanding of these problems.”
Even though it was not what he originally intended to study in the medical field, vascular surgery and medicine have interested Chiou in the fact that not every day of his job is the same. “I get to apply the latest micro-technology and minimally invasive or non-surgical techniques as well as perform some of the most complex and technically challenging procedures available,” he said. “Some days and during some very delicate procedures, I feel like a Swiss watchmaker. Other days, it can feel like a combat zone, with critical, life-saving procedures that require traditional, open surgery techniques. The variety and scope of what I do everyday keeps a practice in vascular surgery challenging.”
Dr. Chiou enjoys the relationships he forms with patients while studying and treating their conditions. “The primary reason that vascular surgery attracted me was that it allowed me to get to know each patient over time by following their vascular disease. Unfortunately, we do not yet have a ‘magic pill’ that will dissolve away years or decades of disease built up in blood vessels. I help your internist or family practice doctor as a specialist by watching, testing, and treating your vascular disease or blockages in your arteries. Getting to know and helping patients and their families is the reason why a lot of folks become doctors in the first place.”
Chiou treats various cases dealing with blood vessels, except for those in the heart and the brain. “Typically, these involve major blood vessels in the abdomen, legs, arms and neck,” he said. “Preventing stroke and death is an important part of what a vascular surgeon does, and it would surprise you how many people do not need an operation or procedure, but simply lifestyle, diet and risk factor changes, such as stopping smoking and controlling diabetes and blood pressure. I’ve had a lot of training and experience in treating aneurysms of the major blood vessels as well as treating simple and complicated vein problems.”
Many of the procedures that he performs are incredibly intricate and delicate, including interventional procedures that involve wires and catheters (small tubes), stents, balloons and other small devices. “These are both challenging and interesting because of the need to integrate a deep knowledge of vascular disease with technology,” Chiou said. “Performing bypasses in the neck, abdomen and legs also involves a lot of intricate procedures.”
The most common cases that he takes on are the treatment of spider veins. Spider vein therapy is a quick, often painless outpatient procedure using either microscopic injections or gentle laser to treat the leg and takes only 15 to 30 minutes. There is really no recovery period, and most people can return to work or normal activity right away.
He also gives back to the medical community with his research, publications, and position as the Assistant Professor of Surgery and Radiology at the University Of Illinois College Of Medicine at Peoria. “I serve as full-time faculty for the department of surgery, helping to train and teach medical students, surgical residents, and family practice residents,” Chiou said. “My research has been focused on the study of aortic aneurysms, which is a disease that involves the ballooning out of the largest blood vessel in your body. I’ve published extensively on all sorts of vascular diseases and written many book chapters on the subject. Last year, I was awarded a research grant to develop a course of study in research ethics for our residents and interns. This helps our trainees learn and understand the often complex ethical challenges that we face on a daily basis in both clinical practice and research.”
With all of Chiou’s success, he doesn’t forget those who helped him along the way, which is one of the reasons he chose to practice in his hometown. “On a daily basis, I say a silent ‘thank you’ to my dedicated, hardworking, and extremely motivated teachers, counselors, and principals that educated me, guided me, and encouraged me throughout my 13 years as a student in District 150,” he said. “Schools and buildings are just brick and mortar, but the education I received came from the dedicated hearts and minds of the individuals who interacted with the students everyday. I’d like to publicly send a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to the teachers, counselors, and principals, past and present, of Peoria’s District 150 schools. A strong and vibrant public education is one of the pillars of a growing and forward-looking community.” IBI