Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Over-the-moon happy

No doubt you’ve heard of Vivian Chui. She is a prominent orthodontist in La Cañada who has treated a generation of children. I have observed her graceful movements as she meticulously applied her skills while treating my daughters: fastening, tightening and manipulating miniscule components of metal. Orthodontia is not only a science, it’s also an art.

Paying attention also is an art. Everything beckons us to perceive it and silently it murmurs, “Remember me.” So when I heard Dr. Chui remark, “Sabine! I’m over-the-moon happy at the progress you’re making,” I took note. There’s something special about someone who would use the expression, “Over-the-moon happy!”

Dr. Chui seems to possess a Zen-like quality as she relates the importance of personal responsibility for following a rigid therapeutic regimen to the overall psychosocial development of the individual.

As I listened to her, I realized she is more than the sum of her academic and professional credentials. Her practice is driven by an innate desire to connect with her patients. She holds firmly to the philosophy that treatment is holistic and that the infusion of life-lessons is as paramount as medical perspective. “I’m a mother, a person and also an orthodontist,” she says.

Dr. Chui and I shared a pot of tea at Penelope’s. She told me she doesn’t take lightly the trust parents place in her for the treatment of their children. She is also a perfectionist. However, with perfection comes an old-school approach toward getting results.

“When I see a child, I look to the future, since what I do regarding treatment will affect this child 40 years from now,” she told me.

I began to see the totality of her philosophy. Her treatment consists of a multitude of variables that require persistence and discipline.

“You have to do the work,” she says. “I am relentless. I am teaching them tenacity. Success is persistence. A successful treatment becomes the patient’s successes. In turn, this success transcends throughout all aspects of life and the child learns to believe — ‘Yes, I can succeed!’”

I asked Dr. Chui if she would ever alter her treatments to accommodate the changing natures of society and children. Instant gratification with little effort seems to dominate the popular culture. She replied, “The truth is always the truth. The right thing is always the right thing; and I have to do the right thing.”

Accompanying my girls to Dr. Chui’s office is hardly a highlight of my day. However, the silver lining is an opportunity to listen to her wisdom as she addresses the children during and after treatment. Her insights are not readily apparent, thus learning the art of paying attention is essential. Her vignettes of perspective are transcendental. Those who listen leave her office a bit more philosophically intact. Discipline, confidence, trust, and ultimately a belief that ‘Yes, I can,’ are incidental to a brighter smile.

I hope my children learn that remarkable people abound and that an inquisitive eye and an attentive mind often uncovers life’s little treasures. I never would have imagined that a trip to Dr. Chui’s office would be so insightful and make me, as a parent, “Over-the-moon happy.”

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at

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