FORMER police superintendent Mr Ong Lian Tat is a lucky man to be alive. On his 64th birthday in September 2002, he suffered a massive heart attack.  

He made it, in no small part, due to his surgeon's expertise.

Said Mr Ong: "It was Dr Kenny Sin who operated on me and saved my life."

As Singaporeans age, more and more will need heart surgery, say doctors.

The good news is the latest report card on heart surgery in the two public hospitals here is positive.

An information paper by the Ministry of Health shows that outcomes from the National Heart Centre (NHC) and National University Hospital (NUH) are comparable to those in developed countries for both low- and high-risk surgery.

Elective or planned surgery is usually considered lower risk. The paper provides an overview of heart surgery outcomes at both hospitals from 2001 to 2005.

It revealed that those who undergo low-risk heart bypass surgery have a one in 1,000 to six in 1,000 chance of dying.

Those who undergo high-risk surgery have a five in 100 chance to a nine in 100 chance of dying.

Said Dr Sin, head and senior consultant, department of cardiothoracic surgery at NHC: "The man in the street who comes for heart surgery can be assured of the best outcome."

Mr Ong should know.

Said the grandfather of one: ”I was very lucky. Their excellent care and expertise pulled me through".

He suffered a heart attack while parking his car near a hawker centre, and was sent to NHC.

Said Mr Ong: "I told Dr Sin who saw me at NHC that I wanted to live, I didn't want to die. I told him he must do his best for me," he said.

Said Dr Sin: "Mr Ong was an emergency case. If we hadn' t operated on him, he would have died within hours.”

As it was, his chances of survival did not look good. He fell in the high-risk group and Dr Sin estimated that he had a 20 in 100 to 30 in 100 chance of dying.

"We will be seeing more such high-risk patients as doctors and modern medicine extend people's lives more," said Dr Sin.

Mr Ong lived to see his first grandchild born and is now living life to the fullest.

But as the paper reveals, the risk of dying is much lower if you undergo elective surgery rather than wait for a heart attack.

The Stats

  • NHC – 773 operations a year (85.4% planned)
  • NUH – 439 operations a year (71.9% planned)
  • Nearly three out of four patients men
  • Eight in 10 above 50 years old

The Threats

  • Low-risk heart bypass surgery – 0.1% to 0.6% chance of dying
  • High-risk heart bypass surgery – 5% to 9% chance of dying
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