Heng Swee Keat undergoes surgery after stroke

Mr Heng is now in the intensive care unit at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
Mr Heng is now in the intensive care unit at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.ST FILE PHOTO

He collapses during Cabinet meeting; Tharman will cover as Finance Minister

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, 54, underwent emergency brain surgery at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) last night after collapsing suddenly from a stroke during a weekly Cabinet meeting.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam is covering his duties as Finance Minister, said the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) in a statement yesterday.

His sudden stroke was due to an aneurysm, which is a localised weakening of a blood vessel.

He underwent initial neurosurgery to relieve pressure in his brain due to the bleeding. The aneurysm was successfully closed, the statement added.

Mr Heng will remain under close monitoring in the intensive care unit at TTSH.

VALUABLE MEMBER OF PM'S TEAM

We were having our weekly Cabinet meeting just now when Heng Swee Keat suddenly collapsed. The doctors in Cabinet (we have three) attended to him immediately. We called an ambulance, which took him to TTSH. A CT scan showed that he had had a stroke. Doctors are attending to him now. Hope Swee Keat will be alright - he is a valuable member of my team.

PM LEE HSIEN LOONG, in a Facebook post yesterday.

Earlier, Cabinet ministers in Facebook posts described what had happened when he collapsed.

He was immediately attended to by three doctors in Cabinet: Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Minister of State Janil Puthucheary. Dr Ng, a former cancer surgeon, later said they managed to resuscitate him.

An ambulance then took him to the hospital where a CT scan showed he had a stroke.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, who had been working closely with Mr Heng, said he had looked very tired.

"I have been telling him that he was overworking so much that it will affect his health,'' he added.

The announcement of Mr Heng's stroke triggered an outpouring of good wishes online by MPs, politicians from across the political spectrum, businessmen and ordinary Singaporeans.

"Hope Swee Keat will be alright - he is a valuable member of my team," wrote Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Facebook.

Mr Tharman said: "Let's hope and pray for Heng Swee Keat. He is one of Singapore's finest sons, and a leader with much promise."

Said DBS chief executive officer Piyush Gupta: "Swee Keat has had a close association with the banking industry, through his role as managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore and now as Minister for Finance.

"His ideas for transforming the future economy of Singapore are bold, and we wish him a speedy recovery."

Parliamentary Secretary Amrin Amin told The Straits Times that Mr Heng "appeared to be in good health" when they met around 3 to 4pm, before the Cabinet meeting.

His sudden collapse in Cabinet at 5.34pm was announced in a brief statement at 6.57pm by the PMO.

Fifteen minutes later, PM Lee said on Facebook that doctors at TTSH were attending to Mr Heng.

Doctors contacted yesterday declined to comment, saying it would not be appropriate as they had no information on the situation.

Mr Heng, a core member of the fourth generation of political leaders, has been identified as a potential prime minister by some analysts, who pointed to the major initiatives he has undertaken and the heavyweight ministries he has helmed in the past few years.

"Minister Heng is widely regarded as being among the front runners to succeed PM Lee," said law don and former Nominated MP Eugene Tan, who added: "I don't recall any medical emergency during a Cabinet meeting. A poignant reminder of the demands placed on office-holders."

Mr Heng entered politics about five years ago and, in a rare move, was appointed a full minister on being elected in 2011, holding the education portfolio.

After last September's general election, he was made Finance Minister and presented his maiden Budget on March 24.

He also chairs the crucial Committee on the Future Economy that is charting ways to restructure the economy to keep Singapore competitive and thriving.

He has led several major initiatives, including heading the committee that oversaw the events to celebrate Singapore's 50 years of independence. He also headed the Our Singapore Conversation series of dialogues to get people to talk about the kind of Singapore they want in 20 years' time.

At Tampines GRC, other MPs will look after his ward, said fellow MP Masagos Zulkifli, the Environment and Water Resources Minister.

Mr Heng has two children with his wife Chang Hwee Nee, a deputy secretary at the Ministry of National Development.

Housewife Leong Choi Van, 61, a long-time Tampines resident who was shocked at the news, said: "Mr Heng has been an MP here for six years, so we know him well.

"I really hope he gets well soon."

•Additional reporting by Chong Zi Liang and Rachel Au-Yong

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2016, with the headline 'Heng Swee Keat undergoes surgery after stroke'. Print Edition | Subscribe