Danny Kwok thought he might be having seasonal allergies, but when his hearing didn’t improve, he went to see a specialist. “Where are you from?” the doctor asked. This simple question changed the course of Danny’s treatment, and perhaps his life.
By Geoffrey Waring
In early May 2021, Danny Kwok noticed something unusual with his hearing. He was watching television at his house, when suddenly his hearing went out on one side. He was no longer able to hear with his left ear.
“All of a sudden, my left ear couldn’t hear very clearly,” Danny recalled. “I could hear the TV’s sound but I couldn’t understand the words.”
Danny thought that it might have something to do with the changing of the seasons, or perhaps an allergy of some kind. He went to see a physician at a clinic in the San Gabriel Valley, and was given a course of antibiotics. But, to his dismay, following the medication his hearing in that ear had not improved.
His friends encouraged him to go see a specialist, and told him that the doctors at the USC Caruso Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at their Arcadia clinic had a wealth of experience dealing with hearing issues.
Danny was set up with Kevin Hur, MD, an otolaryngologist working in the Arcadia Clinic. Danny recalls that after running a series of standard tests, Dr. Hur suddenly looked at him and asked where Danny was originally from.
“I thought, why did the doctor ask me where I come from? It’s nothing related to my ear problem,” Danny said. “So I told him, I came from Hong Kong but that was almost 40 years ago. And Dr. Hur said, ‘It does matter. Follow me to the next room.’”
Dr. Hur used an endoscope to look inside Danny’s nose, where he found what he had suspected: a tumor.
“Danny had fluid behind his eardrum, which a lot of doctors will pass off as an infection or something similar, but I wanted to check inside his nose because he’s from Hong Kong,” Dr. Hur explained. “When I looked inside his nose, I saw there was a mass on the left side.”
Danny had nasopharyngeal carcinoma, a type of cancer that is common in people from southern parts of China and Southeast Asia. Because Los Angeles, and particularly the San Gabriel Valley where Dr. Hur practices, has such a large population of people from this area, it was something he knew to look for when hearing about Danny’s symptoms.
Fortunately for Danny, he was in exactly the right place to be treated for such a condition. The Keck Medicine of USC Arcadia Clinic not only has the cultural resources to serve its surrounding community, it is set up in such a way that it’s very easy to coordinate appointments with specialists who work together to provide seamless patient care. Danny was set up with a CT scan to map the tumor the same day, and within 2-3 weeks he had appointments with medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, as well as follow-ups with Dr. Hur.
Danny was told that he would be receiving both chemotherapy and radiation over the course of thirty-three sessions. Within a few weeks, he had already started on therapy with radiation oncologist Jennifer Ho, MD, and medical oncologist Jenny Zhou, MD, as well as continuing treatment with Dr. Hur.
Danny felt happy that the various doctors working on his case were in one place, that appointments were easy to schedule, and that they could collaborate following any complications with his case.
Dr. Hur recalled one time that Danny experienced new hearing loss following a round of radiation.
“Dr. Ho texted me and asked, ‘Hey, can you see him?’” Dr Hur said. “He just walked right upstairs after his radiation treatment, and I examined him. I think USC Arcadia is really well designed for these types of patients who need multidisciplinary care.”
Over a year later, Danny is well on the road to recovery. Although he still has some lingering symptoms—Dr. Hur explains that they can sometimes take more than a year to recede—the tumor is gone and he is feeling well again. It takes time, but his quality of life is improving every day.
“During the recovery period, it’s not that easy, because eight months after the treatment I still have a dry mouth and a dry throat. But it’s getting better and better,” Danny said. “I’m getting better and better. Praise God, every time I see Dr. Hur, he says ‘You have no problem.’ He says, ‘Danny, you are doing very good.’”
Danny is immensely grateful for Dr. Hur’s cultural expertise, knowing about risk factors for Asian Americans that he learned from his own cultural knowledge and from his experience treating patients both at Keck Medicine of USC/LA County Hospital and at the Keck Medicine of USC Arcadia Clinic. Dr. Hur is working to inform the community, especially those from southern parts of China and Southeast Asia, about the risk factors for nasopharyngeal cancer. His advice? If you have symptoms, get checked out.
“I hope Danny’s story helps other people, helps encourage people to not put it off,” Dr. Hur said. “If they develop a symptom like hearing loss on one side or a neck mass, especially if they are from Southeast Asia or Southern China, they should definitely get it looked at.”
“For most Asians, if you have these kinds of symptoms — poor hearing in only one ear, not both ears — if you have that kind of symptom, it’s better to find an ENT doctor and to check it out immediately,” Danny said. “Find an experienced doctor like Dr. Hur!”
Find out more about the USC Caruso Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the Arcadia clinic here.