J Lawton Smith Award Recipient

J Lawton Smith was one of the original founders of the COS.  He was globally well known as a neuroophthalmologist who was charismatic in practice and his faith!

The J Lawton Smith Award is given out each year at the COS Annual Meeting to an ophthalmologist who has shown a lifetime commmitment to serving the Lord through their personal practice of excellence in medicine, academic influence, and/or missionary dedication.

J Lawton called him “Enoch Pie”

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“He believed he was called not only to restore physical sight but spiritual sight as well and loved telling people about what Jesus had done for him and how they could know Him also.”

reflections by Jonathan Tsai 8/2021

Dr. Enoch N. Tsai was born into a believing family in Fujian Province, China in 1941.  His maternal grandfather was a pastor and both of his parents had come to faith in Christ as teenagers.  His father had been influenced significantly by Canadian missionaries in his hometown and encouraged to pursue medical training as a physician.  Enoch trusted Christ after hearing a message on the second coming of Christ preached at a revival service he had attended with his grandfather when he was 9 years old.  He suffered religious persecution for his faith in Christ, culminating in his expulsion from trade school in 1959 for practicing his faith.  He was sidelined for four years, having no hope of pursuing other educational activities and no means of leaving the country.  He struggled with the Lord over this adversity and finally came to peace in surrendering his future to the Lord.  Shortly thereafter In November 1963, the Lord opened the door for him to leave China and, after two years studying in Hong Kong, he pursued undergraduate and medical training at the University of Miami, graduating in 1970.  The Lord provided abundantly for him as an immigrant studying medicine in a foreign language through new friends, his local church, a full-ride scholarship (which he did not apply for), and two part time librarian assistant jobs which provided room and board and a stipend.  During his premed years, he learned microvascular surgery while cannulating tiny vessels to monitor blood pressure in chick embryos in a research lab run by tenured zoology professor, Dr. Casimer T. Grabowski. 

About a month after he arrived on the University of Miami campus in early September 1966, he wanted to apply for medical school.  Dr. George T. Lewis, Dean of Admissions told him, “Let me refund the application fee since you just got here, and you can apply again next year.”  Enoch took a walk on the beautiful U of M campus and prayed about it.  With peace about his decision after consulting the Lord, he went ahead and submitted his application anyway.  Dr. Lewis told him, “Send me your grades from the midterm.”  In December of 1965, he received a letter of acceptance, provided he take the MCAT.   To this day he does not know his score.

He remembers first meeting Dr. J. Lawton Smith in 1966, when Dr. Smith and his fellow visited his freshman medical school class and handed out Bibles.  He got to know Dr. and Mrs. Smith, frequenting their home on Southwest 62nd Court in Miami for weekly Bible studies, where he was given the affectionate nickname “Enoch Pie” by Dr. Smith.  Spending a third-year elective rotation in neuro-ophthalmology with Dr. Smith piqued his interest in ophthalmology.  During his fourth year, he was given a black and white photograph by a matchmaking relative and began written correspondence with his bride-to-be.  After a 6-month courtship via airmail he flew to meet her in person for the first time in Singapore during his intern year and proposed during that visit.  They were married 8 months later in August 1971.

During his second year of internal medicine residency in Jacksonville, FL, in 1972, he received a phone call from Dr. Smith: “Enoch, I’m going to apply for a grant for you.  If it is the Lord’s will, you’ll be able to spend a year with me as my research fellow.” Again, the Lord opened the door.  During that neuro-ophthalmology research fellowship year, he worked on projects in Dr. Smith’s lab, performing anastomoses between the femoral artery with the vortex veins in dogs and monkeys and similar experimental protocols between the superficial temporal artery and vortex vein in humans, hoping to increase macular perfusion in macular degeneration patients.  When he wasn’t in the lab, he spent time seeing patients with Dr. Smith in the clinic.  He recalls the efficiency and brilliance of his mentor: “I remember he was very fast when he would type the consultation report of his findings and hand it to the patient.”  He also remembers the spiritual impact Dr. Smith had on his patients: “He would witness to them and pray with them.”

In January 1973, Dr. Smith contacted Dr. Malcolm “Mike” Luxenberg, who had just become the chairman of ophthalmology at the Medical College of Georgia, and told him, “I’ve got a fellow here who is ‘terrific.’  Would you consider taking him as a resident?”  Within a few days, he was invited to interview in Augusta and remembers returning to Miami the next day, just before a historic snowstorm came through Augusta leaving an unprecedented 14 inches of snow on the ground.

He completed his ophthalmology residency at MCG in 1976 and went on to open a solo private practice in Aiken, South Carolina, which he continued for 40 years until his retirement in 2016.  

During his life, Dr. Enoch Tsai has made a tremendous impact on all who knew him both professionally and personally.  He has always been a man of integrity, compassion, and the rare combination of boldness intertwined with meekness and gentleness.  He has exhibited courage in diligently stepping out in obedience even when it cost him dearly, but all the while he has waited on the Lord in utter dependence for Him to provide in His time.  He always remembered from whence he came and credits the Lord with the glory when he experienced blessings and achievements.  He viewed his practice as a ministry and took excellent care of his patients over multiple generations.  He believed he was called not only to restore physical sight but spiritual sight as well and loved telling people about what Jesus had done for him and how they could know Him also.        

During his years of practice, he trusted the Lord to provide through word of mouth.  He never relied on advertising and never sent patients who couldn’t pay to collections.  He believed that the Lord who had been faithful all along would continue to be faithful to provide.  He was intentional about pouring his life into the lives of others.  He would hire young people to train as ophthalmic technicians often as a stepping-stone to a career in medicine or some other ministry.   At the invitation of his patients, he would often visit local churches to share the good news of Christ, sharing his personal testimony in word and in song.  Oftentimes, when patients would feel nervous during surgery, he would pray for them and sing hymns while he operated.  He and his wife Leng remained active in his local church, serving in leadership roles and teaching God’s Word to young people.

He loved the Christian Ophthalmology Society.  In 1981, during a COS meeting in Orlando, FL, Enoch gave a personal testimony, and a couple years later Dr. Smith asked him to consider serving as the treasurer of the COS.  He took great delight in issuing grants to medical students, residents, and fellows in attendance to the meeting and in praying with and for them.  He and his wife Leng enjoyed hosting meetings as well, organizing one COS meeting in Asheville (2001) and three meetings in Hilton Head (1988, 1995, 2009).

He enjoyed meeting with Lawton and Libby and a small group of leaders often at Dr. Smith’s family condo in Litchfield Beach on Pawley’s Island, SC, where they met for fellowship, planning, and praying for the summer meeting.  The highlight of those prayer meetings every year would be getting to play cello along with Dr. Smith on the bassoon in a rag tag living room orchestra.  Both men took up their respective instruments late in life and loved to play to the glory of God.  Mike Siatkowski would also join in on the piano.  

Since his retirement, Enoch continues to enjoy spending time with his wife Leng with whom he will be celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary at the time of this writing.  He enjoys investing time with his three children, their spouses, and 18 grandchildren.  He is a continual source of encouragement to other and points us all to continue to meditate on the goodness of God and wait on the Lord no matter how difficult the circumstances.   How fitting it was that when he was young man, his father suggested he take the English name, Enoch; for, like the first Enoch, this Enoch also walked with God and has known firsthand His faithfulness all these years. 

Now at 80 years of age, when asked his favorite passages of Scripture, he responded without hesitation, “Psalm 103 and Psalm 121.” 

Psalm 103

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,

Who forgives all your iniquity,

Who heals all your diseases,

Who redeems your life from the pit,

Who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

Who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field;

For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more,

But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children,

To those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word!

Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will!

Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion.

Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills.  From where does my help come?

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

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