How the electrocardiogram, an electrical reading of the heart, can tell so much about the organ amazes cardiologist Terrance Chua. POON CHIAN HUI reports

Dr Terrance Chua, 51

OCCUPATION: Deputy medical director of National Heart Centre Singapore

UNWINDS: By jogging, going to the gym, playing table tennis or cycling with his family

I decided to specialise in cardiology because...

What first attracted me to cardiology was the electrocardiogram (ECG) - an electrical reading of the heart.

It's amazing how the little piece of paper generated by this imaging method can reveal so much about the heart.

For instance, it can indicate abnormal heart rhythm.

My main sub-specialty is cardiac imaging, which involves using technology to look at heart function and blood flow.

Up till today, I still enjoy reading ECGs and I also find it fun to teach medical students how to read them.

The heart is fascinating because...

It never rests and, in the absence of disease, never gets tired.

If I were to give an analogy for what I do, I'd be a...

Coach. Getting the whole team to work together is important.

For instance, I am involved in developing the use of computed tomography in heart scanning. As this was previously solely carried out by radiologists, cardiologists now need to work with them to develop the technology.

In addition, I am always looking out for bright people to join our team.

I have come across all types of cases...

I have met many inspiring patients.

There was a woman who had her leg amputated because of cancer. The chemotherapy that ensued weakened her heart and she needed a heart transplant.

Despite these obstacles, she showed incredible determination. She even took part in a walkathon on crutches.

A typical day for me would be...

I wake up before 6am so I can take my 14-year-old son to school.

At around 7.30am, I start on ward rounds. After that, I see patients at the clinic or analyse images in the laboratory.

I sit on committees under the Ministry of Health (MOH) that look at heart health screening and such. I am also a board member of the Singapore Heart Foundation (SHF). Hence, evenings are mostly spent in meetings at the National Heart Centre, MOH or SHF.

In my free time, I jog, go to the gym, play table tennis or cycle with my family.

I used to wake up at 5.45am for a run, but my knees are starting to give me problems.

I love to read non-fiction books on science-related topics. My wife, an oncologist, feels that I buy too many books - it's time for me to get a Kindle.

I love patients who are...

Cheerful and stoic despite their illness.

Patients who get my goat are...

Disease is frightening, so I try not to get upset with anyone.

Even the most difficult patients become reasonable when you allow them to voice their concerns.

One little known fact about heart disease is...

Ninety per cent of coronary heart disease stem from nine factors that are lifestyle-related and, hence, avoidable.

They are high cholesterol levels, diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, alcohol drinking, obesity, lack of exercise, a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables and stress.

Things that put a smile on my face are...

When patients who are taken to the hospital after collapsing manage to recover, go home and return to visit me in the clinic.

It breaks my heart when...

It's sad to see patients who can change for the better, but don't put in the effort to do so. For example, some fail to take their medication regularly. Some also refuse to stop smoking.

I wouldn't trade places for the world because...

I work with a wonderful and dedicated team of health-care professionals.

Also, I get to teach - I give lectures to doctors and medical students once or twice a week. Teaching is partly what makes medicine fun.

My best tip...

There is a lot of information on the Internet on diets and nutrition, as well as lots of conflicting research. It can get very confusing.

My advice is to go to reputable sources, such as the Health Promotion Board.

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction.