Dr. John Moua, a pediatric pulmonologist at Children's Hospital Central California, won't forget the poverty he came from growing up in Fresno.
That's one of the reasons he is so determined to give back what he can to the Valley's sick children.
He connects to the kids because he can relate to their hardships.
Moua, 33, is part of a hospital team that collaborates to help children struggling with asthma, cystic fibrosis, sleep apnea and other illnesses. He specializes in infant pulmonary function testing and is one of four doctors in the pulmonology department at the hospital. Together, they see about 60 patients on days the pulmonology center is open.
In February, Moua consulted at the hospital with Rojelio Martinez, 8, of Tulare, who goes by "Rocky," and his mother and grandmother.
He was born with congenital heart disease -- and is currently battling a rare condition in which he coughs up lung tissue. Rocky's eyes are a little sunken, a condition that comes with what he is experiencing.
After checking Rocky's lungs and heart, Moua says he sees improvement.
"You're a trooper," Moua says. "I'll be a trooper for you."
Later, in his office, Moua says he was encouraged by Rocky's progress.
Rocky has been hospitalized many times and has been out of school. He continues to show signs of improving and is back in school. His teachers say he is active.
"It's very satisfying to see a kid who hasn't done so well -- and now he's doing really, really well," Moua says.
When Moua was a kid, he didn't have any health issues, but he had a similar kind of progress as Rocky.
"I've been very blessed," he says. "I've had great teachers and mentors."
Moua's parents -- Tom Moua and Cha Thao -- fled Laos in the 1970s to escape Communists who took over the country after the Vietnam War.
They settled in Santa Ana and had a family of seven children, including John. The family struggled. They didn't know English. They couldn't get jobs. They decided to move to Visalia, where they shared a three-bedroom apartment with other relatives. Moua's family slept in one bedroom; other relatives used the two other bedrooms.
Tom Moua decided he needed an education and went to College of the Sequoias in Visalia. Cha Moua didn't work. The family lived on welfare.
John Moua remembers eating a lot of peanut butter and rice.
"I grew up in poverty," he says. "I didn't know any different."
After the family moved to Fresno, Moua got straight-A's in school. So he went to Edison Computech, where education is accelerated. He also started visiting the homes of fellow students, whose parents were doctors and lawyers. He felt embarrassed to be seen with his mother, which made her cry.
"I'll never forget it," Moua said. "I don't know what happened to me. I have a feeling it was the rebel teen in me. I said things I didn't mean.
"I have since apologized to my mother -- many times."
While growing up, Moua wanted to become a doctor. He went to Edison High and was accepted to Cornell University. The night before he was supposed to leave for college, Tom Moua posed a question: "Are you going for the education or do you want to leave us?"
The education, Moua answered.
"That day was the day he let me do what I wanted to do," Moua says. "He wanted to know, 'Are you going to fly or fall.' It was my time."
Moua went to Cornell University -- and the University of California at Davis Medical School, as well as the UC San Francisco residents program in Fresno, to become a pulmonologist. While he was away in school, he returned to Fresno for a Hmong New Year celebration and met his wife, Sandda.
He chose to come back to Fresno to be a pulmonologist. He has been at Children's Hospital since August.
"It's something I can give back," he says. "I grew up in this area. I've had great teachers, phenomenal mentors. So this is the least I can do -- give back to the community.
"A lot of people think of Fresno as, 'Oh, it's the armpit of California.' But we have phenomenal teachers, phenomenal mentors. Great education is done here."
Many co-workers are familiar with Moua coming from a family that was dependent on welfare.
"It shows that nothing is impossible," says Dr. Lauro Roberto, associate medical director in pediatric pulmonology at the hospital. "It just tells you that you can be whatever you want to be -- and this is a great country to do it."
Besides his parents, Moua says the greatest influence on his life has been God. As refugees, his parents became believers through the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
"I've been very, very blessed -- my family, everything God has done for us," he says. "I thank God for my parents."
The families of Moua's patients say they are grateful for Moua helping their loved ones. They include Rocky's mother, Arlene Martinez, and grandmother, Rachel Saenz.
"I think he's amazing," Martinez says. "What he and the others have stressed, he has gotten a lot better."
Saenz says, "He has taken real good care of Rocky. We're glad he's come into Rocky's life."
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled three names. Dr. John Moua's parents are Tom Moua and Cha Thao. His wife is Sandda Moua.
The reporter can be reached at email@example.com or (559)441-6304.