Wine writer and doctor who pioneered first open-heart surgery in Singapore dies at 93

Dr Yong Nen Khiong was a wine collector by passion and started his column in The Business Times in 1988.
Dr Yong Nen Khiong was a wine collector by passion and started his column in The Business Times in 1988.PHOTO: COURTESY OF FAMILY OF NK YONG

SINGAPORE - Dr Yong Nen Khiong, a cardiothoracic and general surgeon who wrote a weekly wine column for The Business Times for 30 years, died at home on Monday (March 15). He was 93.

Better known as NK Yong, he was found to have an aorta aneurysm two years ago, but did not have it operated on because of his age.

Dr Yong is remembered for pioneering the first open-heart surgery in Singapore in 1965. In 1966, he was appointed foundation professor of surgery and chairman of department of the new Faculty of Medicine at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. He returned to Singapore in 1976 and ran a private surgical practice until he retired in 2004.

He was elected president of the Singapore Medical Association from 1980 to 1981, 1982 to 1985, and 1984 to 1986. From 1984 to 1986, he was concurrently president of the Medical Association of South-East Asian Nations and president of the Commonwealth Medical Association.

Dr Yong was a wine collector by passion and started his column in The Business Times in 1988. He became friends with the top wine-growers around the world and organised more than 10 wine auctions to raise funds for charity.

The last one was for his 90th birthday in 2017, which featured a gala dinner and wine tastings by 33 vintners and 55 wineries. It raised $1.25 million for the St Andrew's Autism Centre.

Dr Yong also received the title of Officier de l'Ordre National du Merite from the President of France in 2004 for his achievements in promoting French wines.


Dr Yong Nen Khiong with his wife Melina. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MELINA YONG

He is remembered fondly by his friends.

Well-known Indonesian chef and culinary expert William Wongso, a long-time friend, said: "Dr Yong was a legend in the world of food and wine. He will be missed."

Added Mrs Lynn-Yeow de Vito, a close family friend: "He was a devoted husband and loving father. Most people knew him to be a wine connoisseur or heart surgeon, but to me, he was more. He was a gracious mentor with the most generous heart."

Dr Yong leaves his wife Melina Yong, 72, as well as three daughters and a son from an earlier marriage. The funeral will be held on Thursday.