Singapore's first heart transplant was performed on a 59-year-old retiree in July 1990. He died eight months later when his body rejected the heart and a lung infection developed.

Since then, 47 other heart transplants have been done, with incrementally better results.

The third and fourth patients are still doing well 19 years after their operations in August 1991.

With advances in medicine, patients who undergo heart transplants now reco-ver faster and are living longer after the operation.

Of the 39 men and nine women who have had transplants in Singapore so far, 27 are still alive today.

Twenty-five patients survived for at least 10 years after surgery, hovering around the world average of 52 per cent.

The youngest transplant recipient was only 14 when her operation took place in November 1991. She died 10 years later from accelerated coronary artery disease that strikes heart transplant patients.

A 50-year-old man who underwent a heart transplant in October 1999 survived for the shortest period of time - a week. He died due to infection.

The longest-surviving patient is book binder Tan Chwee Suan, 49, who has lived for 19 years since.

Singapore's heart transplant programme was set up by a team of specialists at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) in May 1990 under Dr Tong Ming Chuan, who was then head of the department of cardiothoracic surgery.

One of the surgeons on the pioneer team, Dr C. Sivathasan, now in his 50s, became co-director of the heart and lung transplant programme in 2001.

He recalled: 'To maximise learning, I visited St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, the only hospital then performing heart transplants in Australia.

'Within a space of 19 months, I observed 105 heart and lung transplants. That was truly an amazing learning experience.'

He returned from Australia after 18 months of training with renowned heart surgeon Victor Chang.

Dr Sivathasan later went on to help perform the first lung transplant in Singapore in 2000 and the first robot-assisted heart surgery five years later.

Currently, Dr Lim Chong Hee, 45, who trained at the famous Cleveland Clinic in the United States, heads the heart and lung transplant programme. Last year, he was one of the key surgeons to perform Asia's first heart-liver transplant.

In a 13-hour operation performed by two teams of 50 medics from SGH and the National Heart Centre Singapore, retired pastor Lau Chin Kwee, 58, received a new heart and liver.

Each year, about 5,000 people are admitted to hospitals in Singapore due to heart failure.

The Heart Centre, which carries out all artificial heart implants in Singapore, has placed mechanical hearts of various models in 38 patients since 2001.

It sees about 30 patients with end-stage heart failure every year, and six to eight of them are put on the waiting list for a transplant.

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