Christina Lee was 9 years old when her mother died in her arms in Cambodia.
It was 1977, in the throes of the deadly Killing Fields, where more than 2 million Cambodians died during the brutal Pol Pot regime.
Christina’s entire family — her mother, Sok Kaing; father, Meng Lee; and younger sister, Davy Lee — all died while suffering torture and malnutrition at various camps.
“We never had anything to eat,” she said. “I ate snails, tadpoles, anything I could find. My father died of exhaustion and starvation. My mother died a few days after. I found my sister lying in a rice paddy, suffering indescribable pain from malnutrition. She was 6 when she died.”
Christina was finally liberated in 1979. With the help of a Christian family who befriended her in a refugee camp in Thailand, Christina made it to Long Beach in 1981.
She couldn’t speak English when she arrived in Long Beach, but she was a quick learner. She credits three aunts with helping her to survive in her new country: Rany Lee, who was like a mom to her; Shirley Lee Im, who made the sacrifice to work instead of going to school to support her; and Nancy Meak and her husband, Pastor Manh Meak.
Christina attended Tincher Elementary and went on to Hill Junior High, Poly High and, eventually, Bolsa Grande High in Orange County, where she graduated.
It was during her high school days that she decided she wanted to be a doctor to help people. And never again would she be helpless in the face of death.
She graduated with honors from UC Irvine Medical School and went to work as a doctor for more than 20 years before starting the Majestic Medical Clinic at 817 Atlantic Ave. in downtown Long Beach.
It’s a small community clinic where she says she can give personalized care to every patient.
“My past struggles of trying to stay alive and survive and seeing people dying, starving and suffering made me not forget my mother’s last dying words: ‘Be strong and this nightmare will end,’” she said. “I know what it’s like to feel alone, abandoned, helpless and scared. I feel privileged to be given the opportunity to help patients stay healthy and live their lives to the fullest.”
Christina said her determination to succeed stemmed from her faith in God and her commitment to make a positive impact on the community.
She is a human dynamo. In addition to her doctor duties, she volunteers at community health fairs and a variety of other events and is a sought-after speaker and emcee.
Last year, she was the keynote speaker for the first graduating class at the new Sato Academy of Math and Science named for Eunice Sato, a former Long Beach mayor. The school is the first in the Long Beach Unified School District to be named for an Asian-American.
“I remember my mother and father telling me how important education was, that education is everything,” Christina said. “I told the students to focus on education, work hard, trust in yourself and do something that you love.”
Christina is also heavily involved with her church, Long Beach Cambodian American United Methodist, including singing and playing the piano. However, the coronavirus pandemic has sharply curtailed many of those in-person activities.
“Covid time has been hard on everyone, and people long for social interactions,” she said. “It was especially hard at Easter, so my husband and I organized a Zoom worship for that Sunday. We started with 14 people, but we have been growing ever since, and we now have about 50 people joining together to worship. We preach loving and kindness. We have wonderful young people who help deliver goods to members, including farm-picked watermelons from Hemet, orchids from the flower districts and homemade Asian tamales.
“This online Zoom worship ministry has provided hope, friendship and has brought many people who had stopped going to church for years to return to worship and fellowship with others. This is a labor of love for me and, despite how busy my schedule is, it is wonderful to see the fruits of that labor.”
Christina, with a few other Cambodian women leaders from churches across California, has formed the Cambodian United Methodist Women Network. She also has connected with the Methodist Asian American Ministry and the New Federation of Asian American United Methodists.
She volunteers doing a health show, “Our Health Is First,” for a local cable TV program in the Khmer language. She has been asked to be a guest panelist at a town hall meeting sponsored by Asian American Pacific Islanders in October.
Within the first two years of her clinic being open, Christina has been recognized with the 2017 California State Assembly Women of Distinction Award from Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell and the Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia Business Award.
She also has found time to raise a family. She and her husband, Christopher Nget, an engineer, have four children: Joshua, who just graduated from Millikan High School and will be attending UC San Diego; Jacob, a junior at Millikan; Matthew, a freshman at Cypress High School, and Mariella, a sixth-grader at A.E. Arnold Elementary in Orange County.
It has always been Christina’s dream to give back to the community. Her clinic’s motto is, “Our Specialty Is Your Health.”
“As a Cambodian American,” she said, “I feel I can make a difference. We’ve been given a second chance in life. I want to use that chance to bring joy, hope and positivity to the world we live in. We need it so much.”