Kim-Doan Katrina Nguyen, MD ’02 Founds Nonprofit to Promote Healthy Lifestyles for Kids
It’s been six years since pediatric gastroenterologist Kim-Doan Katrina Nguyen, MD ’02 launched her first childhood obesity intervention program in Rockford, Illinois through her nonprofit organization Faithful-2-Fitness. Since then, the Class of 2002 AUC School of Medicine graduate has seen the impact of her work almost every day.
Trips to the grocery store or the mall are usually punctuated with at least one exclamation of “Dr. Nguyen!” from past and current participants in the programs. Sometimes it’s a question about what spice was used in a recent cooking class; other times it’s simply to say hello and catch up.
Each 12-week program aims to promote healthy lifestyle changes for families that go beyond the doctor’s office, through exercise classes, nutrition education, and other community-based initiatives. Founded in 2014, Faithful-2-Fitness works with community partners including local chefs, grocery stores, dietitians, farms, and gyms to offer these programs and inspire positive behavioral changes. Participants learn long-term, sustainable habits, from shopping on a budget and preparing freezer-friendly meals, to making exercise fun through dance, martial arts, and other types of workouts.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the relationships Dr. Nguyen has formed with participating patients are similarly enduring. “It helps break down barriers—the idea that every time you see a doctor or nurse, they’re just going to weigh you and move on,” said Dr. Nguyen. “With some of my patients who have been in the program before, the relationship we develop in the office is different. They walk in and we’ll give each other a high-five. Instead of goodbye at the end, it’s, ‘See you Saturday for the workout!’ It’s more of an ongoing conversation.”
Embracing the Opportunities
Born in Vietnam, Dr. Nguyen is one of 10 children in her family. When she was just a toddler, she and her family set out in her father’s fishing boat after the Fall of Saigon in April 1975 and were rescued as refugees. They were taken to the Philippines, then Guam before settling in Louisiana in their early years in the United States.
“When everything is taken away from you and you start from nothing, you have to rebuild and you start to appreciate all the opportunities that you have,” said Dr. Nguyen. “It’s important to remember where we started as refugees. It taught us to be forward-looking—that we don’t have to be victims, we can be victors—and embrace the opportunities.”
Dr. Nguyen’s interest in working with children and helping them flourish started at a young age. She remembers volunteering at Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, CA in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) during college. There, she learned how to handle and feed premature babies, witnessed the dedicated teamwork of neonatologists, surgeons, and other physicians helping the babies grow and thrive, and experienced families’ joy when they were able to leave the hospital with their healthy infant.
Her fascination with nutrition and growth strengthened during her time at AUC and her medicine-pediatrics residency at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Dr. Nguyen then completed a pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition at the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, and has served in a number of academic and clinical positions as a pediatric gastroenterologist. Today, she is a locum tenens and telemedicine physician based in Loves Park, Illinois.
Dr. Nguyen recently published her first book, “Live to Give: An inspirational memoir about freedom, faith, and selflessness,” which chronicles her remarkable journey and the realization of her dream to practice medicine. She’s passionate about creating balance in life by giving back to others, and is grateful for the opportunity to serve her community through Faithful-2-Fitness and other charitable organizations.
“Growing up, my family experienced hunger and had to get by with very little. But in my organization Faithful-2-Fitness, I’m focused on helping people learn how to control the excesses. There are health issues associated with the extremes—having too much and too little—and our goal is to find that balance,” said Dr. Nguyen. “I also think it’s important to have balance as a physician—to find joy in what we do and take the time to help others and share our success.”