​$10M GIFT: At the National Heart Centre's 10th anniversary dinner yesterday were SM Goh (centre), with businessman Goh Cheng Liang (left), whose Goh Foundation donated $10 million to the centre's Health Endowment Fund, and Prof Koh. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE


The road to Singapore's first heart transplant began in 1988, when Dr C. Sivathasan travelled to Australia to learn the ins and outs of one of medicine's most complicated procedures.

It was a time when Singaporeans still had to travel overseas for some complicated operations, such as heart transplants. But two years later, doctors and Singapore General Hospital performed the operation for the first time.

Yesterday, Dr Sivathasan, with 700 others, including cardiologists, heart surgeons and former patients, got together to remember groundbreaking achievements in heart surgery.

At the gathering, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong also unveiled a book commissioned by the National Heart Centre (NHC) that commemorated the organisation's 10th anniversary.

Dr Sivathasan, who remains co-director of the NHC's heart and lung transplant programme, recalled those pioneering days.

After his internship in Sydney, he returned to Singapore and had to brief not just the surgeons, nurses and technicians who would be directly involved in the first transplant, but also the radiologists, microbiologists and pathologists who would be key in fighting infections after the procedure.

'Doing the transplant operation itself was not a big deal. It was stitching big vessels together. Managing the complications such as rejection and infection was the important thing.'

The team performed the first transplant on a 59-year-old retiree in July 1990, who died eight months later, when his body rejected the heart and he developed a lung infection.

Since then, 40 other heart transplants have been done here. The third and fourth people to have the surgery are still doing well now, after their operations in August 1991.

Dr Sivathasan later went on to help perform the first lung transplant here in 2000, and the first robot-assisted heart surgery in 2005.

Associate Professor Koh Tian Hai, the NHC's medical director, was another of Singapore's medical pioneers. He was one of the first few cardiologists here to be formally trained in surgery to remove build-up in arteries called angioplasty.

Recalling those days in the late 1980s, Prof Koh said yesterday: 'It was very exciting and very new. Before this, cardiology was more about diagnosis and giving medication. Angioplasty gave cardiologists a chance to really do something for patients.'

Last night, the Goh Foundation also donated $10 million to the Centre's Health Endowment Fund, which is now subsumed under the SingHealth Foundation. The money will be used to promote research in cardiac areas and improve patient care, among other things, said Prof Koh.


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