Alum Heart Surgeon Branches Out (click to read more)
No Ebb and Flow for this Alum
All flow for ’85 cardiovascular surgeon
As early as his second year in college, Tej M. Singh, St. Joseph High School Class of ’85, had an idea for a groundbreaking device.
“I was interested early on in hemodynamic changes, how blood travels through veins and arteries. There were sufficient challenges to locate access points in veins to either infuse or withdraw blood, especially for dialysis patients, which made me think there must be a better way.”
Singh employed what would be his professional philosophy for the next 25 years – “strategic patience.”
“I’m a firm believer in working hard, gathering information, surrounding oneself with good people who have an expertise in areas of medicine I’m interested in and then forming a plan to make a difference in people’s lives. That’s strategic patience. It’s not a rush to make money; it’s a process to make a difference.”
That process included journeys around the world to test and promote his inventions, culminating in the availability of two devices that make the infusion and withdrawal of blood easier.
“Our devices are simple and affordable for patients. It is worn around the arm, stimulates blood flow to dilate veins and so provides easy access points when needed. One is designed especially for dialysis patients, while the other is more general for traditional types of blood work.”
Those devices are now available in Europe, India, Canada and Australia. Following positive discussions with the Food and Drug Administration in July and August, they will soon be available in the United States.
After graduating as valedictorian from St. Joes in 1985, Singh completed undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Chicago, where in 1993 he received his medical degree from the Pritzker School of Medicine. Following his mentor, Dr. Christopher Zarins, to the West Coast, Singh’s next commitment, from 1993 to 2002, was to the Stanford University Medical Center to complete seven years of clinical work and two years of research to earn his certification as a cardiovascular surgeon.
Most of those two years of research were spent at Akita University in Japan, where he studied under professor Hirotake Masuda. The professor, whose expertise was pathology with a focus on blood vessels, was a visiting professor at the University of Chicago during Singh’s time of study. They both worked under the guidance of the late professor Seymour Glagov.
In 2002, after earning his surgical certification, which allows him to do vascular surgery for general and trauma patients, Singh was recruited by the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, where he served as chief of vascular surgery. In 2006, he joined the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, a network of physicians serving the San Francisco Bay area. He remains a part of that network, with a large Silicon Valley practice and team.
Through his experience as a surgeon, Singh became interested in the business aspect of medicine.
“I was interested in leadership and future administrative opportunities for someone with my experience. I completed my MBA through the Harbert College of Business at Auburn University in 2013. It was through a business law class there that I received some direction and inspiration to help me with my company.”
That company is Fist Assist (fistassistdevices.com), whose name was born out of Singh’s desire to increase the arm blood flow traditionally initiated when a patient is asked to make a fist. The concept was Singh’s but the company emerged with much family support.
“My father, who passed away in 2016, was very encouraging as a businessman, as is my mother. She was even one of the first test subjects. My wife, who is a very successful psychiatrist in Silicon Valley, has been incredibly supportive. I’m also fortunate that financially my company is a family business as well. I have angel investors: my wife, my parents and, of course, me.”
Always up for a challenge, Singh continues to balance his requests to practice surgery as well as running Fist Assist. And he has no end in sight.
“It’s not a matter of climbing to the top to reach an end. It’s all about connections with people, never leaving behind the people who have been an important part of your life. Supporting one another, making an impact as a means to pay back those who impacted me. Never forget anybody who has helped you in your journey.”
Tej, the Chargers are as proud of you as much as they are of your work. Congratulations and best wishes!
Author’s note: There were a number of times a group of students and teachers traveled to the old Chicago Stadium to go to Blackhawk games. Tej was and continues to be a major hockey fan. Back in the ’80s, I was concerned that he might be harassed by a few fans as he proudly wore his Wayne Gretzky/Edmonton Oilers 99 jersey. To the fans’ credit, he received only an occasional boo.
When Tej showed up to the hockey games at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, in 1998 wearing a Blackhawks jersey, he was soon recruited by the USA hockey team, for which he served as one of the Olympic ice hockey doctors four years later in Salt Lake City, Utah, a personal highlight of his surgical journey and where he met and enjoyed conversations with Wayne Gretsky!