The human body fascinates him

Prof Prabhakaran (right) being handed the National Medical Excellence Award by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Aug 29.

Whenever Professor K. Prabhakaran speaks of his patients, the strong passion he has for his job is evident in his tone and manner of speech. With more than 30 years of experience as a surgeon, the current head and senior consultant of the Department of Paediatric Surgery at National University Hospital (NUH) tells tabla! that, apart from helping people, it was mostly the curiosity of the human body that got him into the medical field in the first place.

"I suppose it's the fascination of the human body and wanting to know how it works and functions," said Prof Prabhakaran, 62, of his interest in studying medicine as a teenager in Malaysia.

"It still continues to fascinate me. That's why I went into transplant (surgery). You can take out one person's liver and put it into another person and it works," he added.

And it is this fascination for his job and his pioneer work in paediatric liver transplant surgery that have propelled him to receive this year's National Medical Excellence Award along with NUH colleague Professor Wong Hee Kit who discovered new methods in orthopaedic surgery.

Speaking about his focus on paediatric surgery, Prof Prabhakaran said that seeing the young patient grow and develop is one of the most satisfying things about the job.

"For 20 to 30 years you can see them growing up and doing well. They start to achieve their full potential in life. Schooling, going into university, getting a good job. Some even start coming to the clinics with their girlfriends and boyfriends," he said, adding that he has also attended some of his patients' weddings.

"You see outside... there's a photo of Raziah," he said, referring to probably his most famous patient: In 1995, 11-year-old Raziah Begum Alamgir was the lucky recipient of a new liver when Prof Prabhakaran conducted Singapore's first successful child liver transplant operation.

"She's now married and has a son," he added.

Married to lawyer Ying Wai Ling since 1989, Prof Prabhakaran and his wife have no children. But he claimed: "I have over 1,000 kids. But none of them are mine."

As for life outside the operating theatre, despite the gruelling schedule surgeons are known to endure, the professor manages to find the time for volunteer work. He trains surgeons in developing countries in Asia and helps out at the Lion's Club.

"That was where I met my wife. She was the president of the club then," he added with a smile.

He also enjoys a weekly game of golf - a hobby he picked up over 20 years ago from none other than his wife. "And now I'm paying for the sins," he added with a laugh.

"It still continues to fascinate me. That's why I went into transplant (surgery). You can take out one person's liver and put it into another person and it works."

- Prof Prabhakaran on what sparked his interest in medicine when he was a teenager in Malaysia