Dr Charles Seah (right) operating on a patient with Dr Justin Ker, Associate Consultant, Neurosurgery, NNI
At 83 years old, Dr Charles Seah has performed a few thousand surgeries and trained generations of young doctors. This veteran is well-known among his colleagues for his precise surgical skills, tenacity and wicked sense of humour.
Threading a needle may be a challenge for many people in their 80s, but for Dr Charles Seah, it’s the least of his abilities! Procedures that require extreme precision, such as cerebral bypass surgeries and tracheostomies, are all in a day’s work for this octogenarian.
Dr Charles Seah, Senior Registrar, Neurosurgery, NNI has built quite the career in medicine across six decades. In 2001, he provided much needed support to the newly established neurosurgery department at Changi General Hospital (CGH), one of NNI’s partner hospitals. He has also trained many of Singapore’s current neurosurgeons, including Professor Ng Wai Hoe, Chief Executive Officer, CGH and Senior Consultant, Neurosurgery, NNI; and Associate Professor Ang Beng Ti, Head and Senior Consultant, Neurosurgery, NNI@SGH Campus.
“It’s important to invest in the next generation and to give them opportunities,” remarked Dr Seah, whose style of teaching has certainly left an impression on his mentees. “I was trained by German doctors, who were very strict and precise, so this is how I teach now,” Dr Seah laughed, sharing that his mentees would jokingly lament about him hitting their hands when they made a mistake.
Dr Seah currently covers emergency cases at Sengkang General Hospital (SKH), another partner hospital of NNI, treating patients with conditions like subdural haematoma (build-up of blood on the surface of the brain) and haemorrhagic stroke.
His career began in 1961 when the then 23-year-old Indonesian flew to Germany to study medicine. He specialised in general surgery, including vascular procedures and orthopaedic surgery. After 20 years, Dr Seah joined his brother in Singapore, so they could better care for their ailing mother.
Dr Seah joined Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) in 1981 as a Medical Officer despite his already extensive experience because his Bachelor’s degree from Germany was not recognised in Singapore. Fortunately, under the mentorship of Neurosurgery pioneers Dr Tham Cheok Fai and Dr Gopal Baratham, Dr Seah’s value to the department did not go unnoticed. He taught neurosurgeons how to perform a carotid endartectomy, a procedure to remove fatty deposits that have built up in the carotid arteries in the neck.
“Dr Tham fought to have me promoted,” recalled Dr Seah. “He was always kind to me and a good friend. Our colleagues would often joke that I’m his pet.”
Dr Seah retired in 2007, but he missed the adrenaline of emergency cases; two years later, he was back in action at NNI! “I’m the sort of person who can’t sit still, and needs to always be working. This is why I enjoy working in neurosurgery – everything is so dynamic and fast-moving. It keeps me healthy and sharp,” said Dr Seah.
Gardening is one of the many hobbies that keep Dr Seah busy outside of work; he grows his own starfruit and passionfruit.
Dr Seah’s strong work ethic, charisma and willingness to connect with people have won him the respect and affection of his colleagues:
"Charles has always maintained unwavering professionalism and dedication to the job. He's always willing to teach and share what he knows. What is even more worthy of respect is that he is disciplined in maintaining a healthy body and mind. He is truly an example to us all!"
- Dr Chen Min Wei, Associate Consultant, Neurosurgery, NNI
“Uncle Charles is always the first to reach the hospital and the last to leave. He’s always keen to teach the juniors, and he taught me my first burr hole procedure! He is a much treasured grandfather of our NNI family, and we all want to know his secret to anti-aging!”
- Dr Wan Kai Rui, Associate Consultant, Neurosurgery, NNI
“Even as head of service, I am also inspired by Charles. He has a very keen sense of humour which makes working with him more fun.”
- Dr Colum Nolan, Head of Neurosurgery, SKH and Senior Consultant, Neurosurgery, NNI
“I have many fond memories of Charles, and truly respect his work ethic. My first encounter with him was when I was a medical student and heard a loud, gruff voice berating some doctors in a ward. I next met him when I became a neurosurgical trainee and saw how fiercely loyal to the department he was. When I became a consultant, he was assigned to my team; often patients would assume he was the consultant and I the registrar.”
- Assoc Prof Ang Beng Ti, Head and Senior Consultant, Neurosurgery, NNI@SGH Campus
“Uncle Charlie has an amazing work ethic that would put many of us to shame. My early memories of working with him were of him taking me through trauma craniotomies, sometimes straddling from late at night into the wee hours of the morning! On the exterior, he is strict and hot-tempered but underneath lies a soft and kind demeanour. He has taught many generations of neurosurgeons, and neurosurgery has certainly been enriched by his wisdom and experience.”
- Prof Ng Wai Hoe, CEO, CGH and Senior Consultant, Neurosurgery, NNI
Dr Seah (left) and Dr Wan in the Operating Theatre (photo taken in 2017)
This article was published in the National Neuroscience Institute's NeusLink magazine, which covers articles about NNI updates and brain, spine, muscle and nerve conditions in English and Chinese - to read more articles click here!