SINGAPORE - The patient, Miss Chua Ah Moi, 23, had discovered three years earlier that she had a hole in her heart after a check by a mobile X-ray unit of the Singapore Anti-Tuberculosis Association.
She followed up with treatment at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH), and in January 1965 her doctors told her having an operation could prevent her condition from worsening.
That was how she became Singapore's first open heart surgery patient.
A team of doctors led by Dr N.K. Yong performed the four-hour surgery using an artificial heart-lung machine, under the supervision of heart surgeon Dwight McGoon from the Mayo Clinic in the United States. The doctors found two holes in Miss Chua's heart and closed both.
Two children had the same operation soon after - Maureen Lim Gek Lian, 10, in February, and Wong Tat Yang, 11, in March.
The three successful operations marked the start of open heart surgery in Singapore.
Three months after her operation, Miss Chua, the daughter of a furniture shop owner in Holland Road, told The Straits Times she had agreed to have the new surgery because she was worried her condition might worsen.
Maureen, a Balestier Girls' School pupil, said: "I wasn't scared a little bit. Now I can study hard to become a teacher like mummy."
And Tat Yang's father was looking forward to his boy taking up sports.
It is not known what became of the pioneer heart patients.
Dr Yong, now 87, has retired and is well known as a wine connoisseur and writer. The American consultant, Dr McGoon, died in 1999.
Two years after the successful operations done in 1965, SGH started a coronary care unit.
Many other "firsts" in heart surgery have been chalked up since, with the first heart transplant done in 1990 and first lung transplant in 2000.
The Singapore Heart Centre was established in 1994 and cardiac services from SGH were transferred there. The centre was renamed the National Heart Centre Singapore in 1998.
It moved into a new 12-storey building on the SGH campus last year, and can now serve twice as many patients as before.
The centre takes care of 40 per cent of all heart patients treated at public hospitals.
KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) performs about 180 to 200 congenital heart operations every year, while the National Heart Centre does about 40 to 50 adult congenital heart operations yearly.
"We are seeing a rising trend of adult congenital heart surgery as patients who were operated on when they were in infancy are now surviving into their adulthood," said Dr Loh Yee Jim, visiting consultant at the heart centre and head of cardiothoracic surgery at KKH.
There were more than 110,000 heart outpatients in 2013 and the number is set to reach 200,000 by 2030.
This article was first published on January 25, 2015.
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