Singapore’s first liver transplant patient turns 50

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| Singapore | 6 Aug 2015 | Asia Samachar |
Surinder Kaur: First successful liver transplant in Singapore in 1990 - PHOTO TODAY
Surinder Kaur: First successful liver transplant in Singapore in 1990 – PHOTO TODAY

Homemaker Surinder Kaur considers it a miracle to be able to celebrate her 50th birthday with the nation’s Golden Jubilee celebrations this year. In 1990, she was the first person to undergo a successful liver transplant in Singapore, after receiving a donor liver from a man who had died in an accident.

The liver transplant was performed by a team of doctors from the National University Hospital (NUH). Before Mdm Surinder’s case, patients who needed a liver transplant would have had to travel overseas to do so, reports Today.

Twenty-five years old then, Surinder was unaware that she had hepatitis B, which puts a person at a high risk of death from life-threatening conditions such as liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. She sought medical attention only after the symptoms of advanced liver damage, including jaundice and weight loss, had set in.

Suffering from advanced liver cirrhosis, she was given six months to live without a liver transplant, the newspaper reported.

Surinder’s condition deteriorated while waiting for a donor liver. By the time a suitable donor was found five months later, she had become so ill that she was barely conscious. Although the local doctors had never performed such a procedure at the time, Mdm Surinder and her father consented to the transplant surgery, the report added.

On Sep 29, 1990, Singapore’s first deceased-donor liver transplant turned out to be a success. Upon regaining consciousness after the operation, Mdm Surinder’s first thought was: “I’m alive!”

The feat was mentioned in a special issue in the Straits Times (20 June 2010) when National University Hosiptal (NUH) celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2010.

Surinder was mentioned in a special issue in the Straits Times (20 June 2010) when National University Hosiptal (NUH) celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2010.
Surinder was mentioned in a special issue in the Straits Times (20 June 2010) when National University Hosiptal (NUH) celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2010.

The local transplant was made possible when the republic’s Health Ministry made a landmark ruling in February 1990 to allow Singapore General Hospital and National University Hospital to perform hearts and livers transplants on a pilot basis.

The high costs and the difficulty of obtaining donor hearts and livers were some reasons why it had disallowed heart and liver transplants earlier. However, with the new ruling, the ministry would invoke The Medical (Therapy, Education and Research) Act to get donors on a one-on-one basis by transplant coordinators, according to information at Singapore Infopedia, an electronic encyclopedia on Singapore’s history, culture, people and events.

Surinder still tears up whenever she recalls her first sight of her father and brother waving to her from outside the intensive care unit.

“It was an emotional moment. I still cry sometimes thinking about how I’ve managed to survive my illness, and am still surviving 25 years after the transplant. My father said I was given a second chance in life,” she tells Today.

Following the transplant, Surinder went on to live a normal life. She got married and fulfilled her dream of becoming a mother when she gave birth to a healthy baby boy six years later. Her son is now 19 years old and is currently a biotechnology student at a polytechnic.

The article reported that Surinder counts herself extremely fortunate. Most of her medical bills were covered by donors. Her transplant operation and hospital bills, which amounted to approximately S$100,000 for a year, were largely covered by donations from the Sikh community.

The homemaker has to be on immunosuppressive drugs for life to prevent her body from rejecting her transplanted organ.

Surinder’s husband works as a medic and earns about S$1,200 per month. At S$400 per month, her regular medication bill would have taken a major toll on her family’s expenses if a stranger — a local businessman — had not learnt about her predicament and offered to pay for it.

To read the full Today story, go here.

 

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