Beloved Pediatrician Leaves Legacy Gift to Cadillac

Dr. Nora Chang and familyNora F. Chang, MD, a well-loved pediatrician in Cadillac, passed away on her 95th following a remarkable life. She left a legacy gift of $466,000 to the Munson Healthcare Cadillac Hospital Foundation.

Dr. Chang’s life story contains all of the drama, heartbreak, adventure, and enduring love of a made-for-TV movie. She was an exceptionally kind, gracious, gallant, and intelligent woman, as well as an outstanding doctor who loved her young patients as if they were her own children.

No Ordinary Girl

Nora was born Sept. 2, 1920, and it was clear at a young age that she was no ordinary girl. At that time, girls in China did not attend school - they learned to cook, mend, and do household chores. Nora wanted to read and go to school. She was fortunate to have an uncle who supported her desire for education and paid for all of her tuition.

During high school, Nora interned at an Epidemic Prevention Station in her hometown of Lanzhou, China. That piqued her interest in medicine, and she was accepted at Northwest Medical University in Xi’An, China. There, she met another medical student, Zhao-Yi Ma. They married in 1945 after graduating with their medical degrees. He started working at Chiang Kai-shek’s Air Force Hospital in Nanjing and she worked at Northwest Army Hospital in Lanzhou – 900 miles apart.

In 1947, Nora gave birth to their son. She wanted to take the baby to Nanjing so her husband could see him. But her mother-in-law told her it was too dangerous to travel with an infant because China was in the midst of a civil war. She suggested Nora leave the baby behind and make the visit alone. “That was the decision that changed all of our lives,” said her granddaughter, Anna Ma Fang. “After grandma met up with grandpa, the Communists took over most parts of China and Chiang Kai-shek decided to retreat to Taiwan. Since my grandpa was with his Air Force, my grandparents were the first ones to leave China.”

A Lost Son

They both resumed their work as physicians in Taiwan and repeatedly tried to reconnect with their little boy in China, but to no avail. China was closed to the world. “That was when they realized they had lost their son forever,” Anna said.

Shortly after arriving in Taiwan, Nora required surgery and was unable to have more children. The couple was devastated. In 1954, she had an opportunity to go to Boston as part of a doctor’s exchange program. She practiced at a military base in Washington D.C. and fell in love with the United States. Nora returned to Taiwan and asked her husband to immigrate to the United States with her. He was a heart surgeon and he wanted more children. In the end, he decided to stay in Taiwan and had two more children with another woman.

Life in the United States

Nora moved to the United States alone in 1956 and began her pediatrics practice in Detroit. A year later, she learned doctors were needed in Haiti and went there to help. She volunteered in Haiti for two years, and then resumed her practice at Detroit Children’s Hospital until 1977, when she moved north to fill the need for a pediatrician in Cadillac.

During all of these years, Nora continued to try to contact her son in China. In 1979, President Richard Nixon visited China and opened its door to the world. As a result, one of Nora’s letters finally reached her son. She sent her letter to a friend in Malaysia, who sent it to another friend in Shanghai, then on to another person in Lanzhou, Nora’s hometown. The person in Lanzhou learned that Nora’s son had moved to a rural area of Lanzhou, so yet another friend was asked to pass the letter on to him. Nora’s 32-year-old son reacted to her letter with total shock, then surprise, then sadness. Nora wrote that she had never given up on finding him.

Two years later, she finally had the opportunity to visit China, 34 years after leaving her son in the care of his grandmother.

A Family Reunited

Granddaughter Anna shared this memory of her family’s reunion in 1981: “I remember seeing her the first time as this really elegant and beautiful woman. I kept thinking to myself that she couldn’t be my grandmother. Grandmother was supposed to be old and all wrinkled. She brought us many gifts, so I liked her immediately. She wanted us to immigrate to the United States, but my parents were hesitant. She told my parents it was for us, her grandchildren. We would have a better opportunity in the United States than in China.”

Nora started the immigration process and the family joined her in Cadillac in November 1983. After Nora was reunited with her son and his family, she began writing to her husband in Taiwan. He had not remarried and was living with his other two children. Nora visited him in Taiwan after she retired in 1991. “They still loved each other and we had a huge family reunion in 2005,” Anna said. In June 2007, Nora returned to the U.S. after spending a year with him and he passed away five months later.

“My grandmother endured many of life’s harsh realities, but it really made her strong,” Anna said. “She became independent, strong willed, and most of all very caring for other people. In her time of need, she also found many caring people who extended their hands to help her. Of course, the Sisters of Mercy at the hospital in Cadillac were among those people. When she first came to Cadillac, they offered her a great deal of assistance.”

Giving Back to the Community

“Grandma was very grateful for their help, so she told us she wanted to give back to the hospital,” Anna said. “The community and the hospital extended their warm welcome to my family as well when we arrived from China. We received many gifts and letters and cards from people all over the community.”

“We are very happy of her decision to donate to Cadillac Hospital,” she added. “This gift is her thanking the community and the hospital for all of their kindness. I hope Grandma’s story will inspire others to extend their helping hands.” In addition to Anna Ma (Frank) Fang of Chicago, Dr. Chang is survived by her son, Jonas (Yuling) Ma of Cadillac, and her grandson, Yun Chi (Nell) Ma of Novi.

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