Vinh was born in Vietnam, a country his family fled by boat in 1979 as refugees. They survived a Thai pirate attack, were rejected from a horrific refugee camp in Malaysia, towed out to sea and left to die, and finally rescued by World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization. They were sponsored by a small Lutheran church in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Leisle’s family emigrated from Korea, and settled to farm life in rural Arkansas (a story that will be familiar to anyone who has seen the 2020 feature film Minari, written and directed by her brother Lee Isaac Chung). Vinh and Leisle met during a high school summer camp. They married right after their college graduation—he from Harvard and she from Yale. They studied theology at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and then both went to Harvard for graduate school: business school for her, and medical school for him. Within two days of visiting Colorado Springs in 2008, they knew that it would become home. Vanguard Skin Specialists opened in 2009.
Both Vinh and Leisle can clearly recall being strangers in this country, unable to speak English and yet welcomed and accepted by others in their new community. Vinh remembers members of the Lutheran Church helping them get settled into their first home. Leisle recalls an elementary school teacher who spent extra time teaching her English and inviting her family for their first Thanksgiving. “Neither of us would be where we are today if it weren’t for the kindness of others,” they say.
Social Impact: About a year into their work in the medical practice, they desired a philanthropic project. Given Vinh’s background, they focused on Southeast Asia, hoping to make use of Vinh’s medical knowledge, and contacted World Vision. The group that literally rescued Vinh’s family from drifting to their death is still active and doing good work—in particular, working with victims of human trafficking in Cambodia, which the couple visited for the first time in 2012. “That visit changed the entire trajectory of our lives,” says Leisle, “as well as how we decided to operate the practice.” They worked to set up an AMBER alert system within the country and did prevention work in the countryside. “We spent some time at a trauma recovery center for women and children who’d been trafficked. That was a really difficult experience. We were both emotionally broken, and we came back feeling like we couldn’t continue to live the way we had been.” Following that visit, they opened an aesthetic retail skincare division called Clara, meaning “light” and named for their only daughter. From Clara, 100% of profits are donated to charities that help women and children.
With the Cambodia project thus funded, they took on clean water projects in Africa—a passion that has affected their children as well. Their oldest son has raised nearly $80,000 for the cause as well as raising funds for a healthcare clinic in Zambia, and he’s only 16. Their second son donates all of his allowance to sponsoring children in Rwanda. The Chungs note that the children’s actions are all voluntary. The family’s and the firm’s philanthropic reach extends from the local community to Haiti and around the world.
“Our practice devotes a lot of energy to projects like providing kids with school supplies, protecting vulnerable children, and providing clean water,” Vinh says. “What does that have to do with medicine? Nothing. What does that have to do with the human spirit? Everything.”
Larger lessons: Vinh quotes Thoreau: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” adding, “I look around at what industrialization has done to our country and at the changes in the healthcare system, where physicians are losing their autonomy, their sense of purpose, being controlled by bureaucracy. We have taken a stance in what we expect from our work because life is too short and it’s too precious for us to relinquish a sense of purpose in what we do. And we hope that other people find the courage to do the same thing. We should never be passive and stand on the sidelines. We should never be afraid to do what we believe is right. We should never be afraid to pursue a life of purpose and need.”
He adds, “We have been given much, and so much is expected of us. We serve and give, not because it’s a moral obligation, but because we derive our greatest joy from it. Every day that we work and serve others is a day that we are pursuing our calling. When what we do is aligned with who we are and why we exist, there is nothing else that we’d rather do.”