S-E Asia's first heart transplant recipient dies at 76

Veteran newsman Seah Chiang Nee lived for more than 30 years after operation in Sydney

Mr Seah started his reporting career in 1960 and did not stop writing until 2014, when his health deteriorated.
Mr Seah started his reporting career in 1960 and did not stop writing until 2014, when his health deteriorated.

Although health problems plagued Mr Seah Chiang Nee in his last few years, the veteran journalist retained his keen intellect and kept abreast of current affairs.

The 76-year-old, who was South- east Asia's first and longest-surviving heart transplant patient, died on Sunday morning at the Singapore General Hospital with his family by his side.

His long-time friends and former colleagues yesterday paid tribute to a man they described as a newshound, who started his reporting career in 1960 and did not stop writing until 2014, when his health deteriorated.

Mr Seah had been in and out of hospital since July for shingles and a prolonged episode of diarrhoea, said his wife Patricia Wong, 68.

She added that there were several instances over the past few months when she thought her husband would not make it - these false alarms had prepared her for the inevitable. "We knew it was going to happen soon," said Madam Wong. "I guess the Lord has kept him (with us) for that long."


In 1982, Mr Seah was diagnosed with cardiac myocarditis, a viral infection which damaged his heart, leaving him in need of a transplant.

The rare condition affected only 12 people here a year, and doctors told him he had just two years to live. But in 1985, he met the late Dr Victor Chang, a leading heart surgeon who was in Singapore as former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's distinguished visitor. The Sydney surgeon told him to seek treatment there.

Singaporeans, fellow journalists, family and friends helped raise $120,000 for his surgery.

On Oct 12 that year, Mr Seah received a new heart at Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital from a 17-year- old Australian boy who had died in an accident.

It is rare for people who have gone through such operations to survive for more than 30 years.

But while the heart transplant extended Mr Seah's life, the drugs he took to prevent his body from rejecting his new heart gradually damaged his kidneys, and he later suffered from renal failure.

Mr Seah began his journalism career in 1960 as a Singapore-based Reuters correspondent. He stayed in the job for 10 years, and spent a portion of it in Vietnam, where he covered the Vietnam War.

He worked at The Straits Times as a foreign editor from 1974 to 1982.

He subsequently became chief editor of the now-defunct afternoon tabloid Singapore Monitor from 1982 to 1985.

In 1986, he started writing for Malaysian publication The Star, and his column ran till 2014. In 2000, he started a current affairs news site, www.thelittlespeck.com

Mr Sia Chong Yew, 73, a former Straits Times senior editor, said Mr Seah's mind remained stimulated even as his health weakened over the past few years. The pair were part of a lunch group of former journalists who met from time to time.

Mr Sia said: "We chatted a lot about current affairs, both local and international. It was always interesting talking to him and hearing him argue his point.

"Despite his illness, he kept track of events and was perceptive enough to analyse and think through various issues."

Mr Sia said it was remarkable that Mr Seah set up a website later in life. "He was an old-school journalist who picked up blogging," he said.

Mr Lai Kwok Kin, 57, who runs a public relations company, said Mr Seah was a newshound. "His heart was always in journalism, but in the last few years, you could tell he was more subdued and less energetic."

Mr Seah leaves behind his wife and their only son Pei Kwang, 37. His wake is being held at Singapore Casket until tomorrow. The funeral is on Thursday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2017, with the headline 'S-E Asia's first heart transplant recipient dies at 76'. Print Edition | Subscribe