Doctor hopes 'hobby' will be his legacy
Long before Dr. Andy Chiou earned his medical degree, he was president of the Washington Wildcats Candy Co.
As a fourth-grader at Washington Gifted School in Peoria, Chiou was elected to run the in-school company selling sweets during lunch and after school.
Chiou created a bank account, and students were allowed to invest $5 in company stock.
He still remembers the thrill of increasing sales and the satisfaction of handing each investor $10 per share at the end of the school year.
At that moment, Chiou realized it's fun to make money.
Chiou's entrepreneurial spirit lives on, and he frequently invests in local businesses.
"Andy's a guy who likes to deal," said Stu Patty, practice administrator for Peoria Surgical Group, where Chiou is one of 15 partners.
The long-term benefit of the candy company is Chiou's realization that the relationships you make as a child can shape the rest of your life.
"You can't discount those little turning points that people give you," said Chiou, 40. "That's why I'm so dedicated to District 150, because of those little things that the teachers gave me. They never even fathom what that does for a kid at the time. It's huge."
These days, Chiou has many titles.
Husband and father of two boys.
Vascular, endovascular and trauma surgeon for Peoria Surgical Group.
Director of the Peoria Vein Center and medical director of the Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Center, both located at the OSF Saint Francis Center for Health.
Instructor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria and at Bradley University.
Board member for the District 150 Foundation.
It is the latter two roles Chiou believes will leave a lasting impact on his hometown.
As a doctor, he can cure one patient at a time. As an involved central Illinoisan, though, he can aid an ailing school district, improve overall medical care in Peoria and help change the face of the city's downtown area.
"I don't golf," the Morton resident said. "This is my hobby, community building and community development."
Chiou will enjoy the fruits of his labor this fall when his practice and three others move into the 127,000-square-foot Illinois Medical Center at the foot of the Main Street hill.
He was amazed how quickly the idea of a Downtown complex took off after a suggestion by boyhood friend and then-city councilman John Morris. The idea progressed to negotiations involving city government, the University of Illinois, physicians and even former Caterpillar Inc. chairman Glen Barton.
"I get my kick out of an idea, cajoling people into following this idea, and having everybody get that critical mass of, 'Let's make it happen,' " Chiou said. "There are 30 people involved in this, but at first it took one. Now other guys have taken over. I get a kick out of this because it represents growth in Peoria long-term."
Said Barton: "I don't think without him and his leadership that it would have happened as quickly as it happened, and maybe never would have happened at all."
Chiou continues pushing other initiatives, such as the not-for-profit foundation's goal of growing charter schools within District 150. Specifically, Chiou and others are interested in helping create and fund a math and science academy within Renaissance Park boundaries.
"Andy's one of the physicians in Peoria who can really help build bridges between the community at large and the physicians' community," Morris said. "He's able to articulate a confidence and a vision that central Illinois can be home to one of the leading health communities in the country.
"While he operates on some of the smallest surgical procedures that are done, on the vascular system, in some metaphorical way he understands the circulation of a community - the way it's all connected, from an educational system to the business community to energy. ... It's like all these things vital organs are connected. Andy connects to every vital part of the community."
Chiou's dad, Sam, a Peoria dentist, and mom, Una, left Taiwan when their son was 2.
Chiou, who speaks Taiwanese, French and some Spanish, spent kindergarten through high school in District 150.
"You can tell when a child's eyes sparkle," said Barbara Quickstad, his fourth- and fifth-grade science teacher at Washington. "They are so alert and so interested in whatever you're doing, you can just tell they are going to grow up and accomplish things. He was that kind of a child."
But by the time he graduated from Richwoods High School in 1986, Chiou seemed an unlikely advocate for Peoria's growth.
He earned undergraduate and medical degrees from Boston University, where he was president of his med-school class. From there, Chiou - whose sister, Lisa, lives in Hong Kong - didn't plan to return home.
Chiou's medical training took him to the big-city bustle of Boston, Chicago and New York. Chiou also spent four years as chief of vascular surgery for the U.S. Air Force, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He worked at Wilford Hall Medical Center, the Air Force's main hospital in San Antonio.
When Chiou's military obligation ended, Peoria Surgical Group recruited him to join its team of medical specialists.
"Andy's group deserves a lot of credit for being able to bring him back here," Morris said. "Andy was recruited back by a group that is filled with dynamic individuals."
Chiou brought his young family to central Illinois and began renewing relationships.
"The same people who helped me when I was a kid, they need my help now as a vascular surgeon," Chiou said.
That includes Quickstad.
"When we were studying the body or something, I would say, 'Now, if any of you go into medicine, you be the very best there is because someday you might have to take care of me' - never dreaming I'd get old," Quickstad said. "He put a filter in my lower vena cava. The first time I saw him in his office he said, 'I'm going to take very good care of you.' He remembered what I had said, which was really phenomenal. He has a memory like a steel trap."
Chiou's interest in inventing and investing led him to a Peoria NEXT brainstorming session in 2004, shortly after returning to central Illinois.
From that meeting, Chiou and Bradley professor John Engdahl co-founded Peoria Robotics.
For now, Peoria Robotics is a research group. But after recently being awarded a $1 million U.S. Department of Defense grant for new medical technology, the group expects to soon begin renting Innovation Center space.
The group is designing a medical simulator to be used in training medical personnel to treat combat injuries. With that and other related patents pending, the research group hopes to create spin-off companies and hire at least a half-dozen employees in the near future.
Construction continues throughout Renaissance Park, including heavy activity at both ends: Bradley and the Illinois Medical Center.
Amid that atmosphere, Chiou seeks improvements to the school district's physical and intellectual core.
An estimated 45 specialized doctors, from Peoria Surgical Group, Peoria Pulmonary Associates, Gastroenterology Ltd. and St. Francis, will soon move into their four-story building. Chiou said those physicians have spoken with District 150 officials about helping fund a math and science academy nearby.
"If we can make this a star school system again, that may actually solve some issues with crime because these kids see a future," Chiou said. "If we pool our resources, we can fund some programs and fund the technology. It would be a big number, but not big to 45 physicians."
Ryan Ori can be reached at (309) 686-3264 or email@example.com.