First kidney transplant



The first kidney, or renal, transplant in Singapore was successfully performed on 8 July 1970 at the Outram Road General Hospital (later renamed Singapore General Hospital).1 Doreen Tan, née Khit Siew Gin, who was 29 years old then, received the organ from a 20-year-old man who had died hours before the surgery.2

Background
Two patients before Doreen were to have been Singapore’s first kidney transplant recipients. One of them, airline cargo officer Tan Lee Buan, died from kidney failure before he could receive a new kidney. He had struggled with kidney disease for three years prior to his death in May 1970.3 The other patient was Lim Pong Kim, a shop assistant. However, he had been ill in the days leading up to the transplant operation and lost the opportunity to undergo the operation.4 Lim waited in vain for another kidney donation and died in July 1972, after being on kidney dialysis for more than four years.5

Before the transplant, Doreen had been suffering from kidney disease for several years.6 She was working as a clerk at the British Royal Air Force base in Singapore but lost the job as she became too weak from a severely restricted diet necessitated by her renal condition. Doreen went into a coma in October 1969, and after she recovered, she was put on haemodialysis at the Renal Unit of Outram Road General Hospital. She remained on the dialysis programme until the landmark operation.7

The donor, Yee Kwok Chong, had been suffering from a brain tumour. Yee’s mother consented to the organ donation when she was informed that her son’s death was imminent after a four-day stay in hospital.8

Description
The operation
The transplant was carried out on 8 July 1970. Chan Kong Thoe, then head of the University of Singapore’s Department of Surgery, was the surgeon who led the operating team.9 After a three-hour surgery, the kidney was transplanted into Doreen’s left side.10 The transplant procedure, which was considered experimental then, had only been performed on dogs a year prior to Doreen’s surgery.11


Post-operation
A day after the operation, the doctors discovered that the donor had died of a brain infection instead of the brain tumour and thus feared that the transplanted kidney could also be infected. However, they decided not to remove the kidney and chose to fight any infection with drugs.12


Following the transplant, Doreen was warded in a sterilised room,13 where the only relative allowed to visit her was her husband.14

Within days of the surgery, Doreen was able to sit up and chat with her husband during his daily visits.15 The surgery was deemed a success when, 10 days after the operation, she was able to pass urine for the first time in one-and–a-half years.16 She was confined to the hospital for a month,17 and on 7 August 1970, Doreen was finally allowed to leave the hospital for a drive with her husband.18

By September 1970, Doreen had been discharged from the hospital and was able to resume her daily life.19

Later developments
Within a year after the operation, Doreen developed arthritis in her left hip joint, a side effect from the drugs she had been taking since the surgery.20 Four years after the operation, she could no longer walk without crutches. More than a decade after the operation, Doreen was still coping well, albeit with a slipped disc.21 She also helped to inspire other kidney transplant patients, providing support, encouragement and advice.22

A reunion to commemorate 20 years of kidney transplantations was organised by the Singapore General Hospital on 8 July 1990. About 150 people attended the gathering held at the hospital’s Bowyer Block, where the first kidney transplant operation took place. Among them were more than 40 kidney transplant recipients, including Doreen, and their families.23



Author

Sharon Teng



References
1. Peters, M. (1970, July 12). The first kidney swop is a success. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Lee, S. S. (1970, August 8). Dress poser for kidney swop Doreen, out today for an hour’s drive. The Straits Times, p. 9; Nathan, F. (1990, July 9). I count my blessings, says first transplant patient. The Straits Times, p. 25; When the surgeons feared kidney transplant would fail. (1970, July 15). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Peters, M. (1970, July 12). The first kidney swop is a success. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Peters, M. (1970, July 16). Next for kidney transplant? The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Lee, S. S. (1972, July 31). The first death in kidney transplant operation. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. When the surgeons feared kidney transplant would fail. (1970, July 15). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Nathan, F. (1990, July 9). I count my blessings, says first transplant patient. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. When the surgeons feared kidney transplant would fail. (1970, July 15). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Kwee, M., & Har, N. (1970, July 13). Kidney swop patient ‘doing just fine’. The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. When the surgeons feared kidney transplant would fail. (1970, July 15). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Kidney swop doctors started with dogs. (1970, August 6). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Toh, S. (1992, March 27). Singapore’s first kidney transplant patient dies. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. When the surgeons feared kidney transplant would fail. (1970, July 15). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Doreen up and about – in less than two weeks. (1970, July 22). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. When the surgeons feared kidney transplant would fail. (1970, July 15). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Nathan, F. (1990, July 9). I count my blessings, says first transplant patient. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Lee, S. S. (1970, August 8). Dress poser for kidney swop Doreen, out today for an hour's drive. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Lee, S. S. (1970, August 8). Dress poser for kidney swop Doreen, out today for an hour's drive. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Lee, S. S. (1970, September 21). Just like one of those Sundays, says Doreen. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Lee, S. S. (1971, July 9). Doreen: Feel fine with my year-old kidney. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Meet first S’pore transplant patient. (1985, February 17). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Toh, S. (1992, March 27). Singapore’s first kidney transplant patient dies. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Reunion marks 20 years of kidney transplants at SGH. (1990, July 9). The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Public health
Transplantation of organs, tissues, etc.--Singapore
Health and medicine>>Diseases>>Urogenital and urinary system diseases>>Kidney diseases
Politics and Government>>Health
Health and medicine>>Medical science>>Surgery
Kidneys--Transplantation--Singapore