World-renowned liver transplant surgeon Tan Kai Chah, who performed a life-saving liver transplant on former actress Andrea De Cruz, died on Sunday morning (Dec 5) on the island of Hainan.
The 68-year-old Malaysian, popularly known as Dr K.C. Tan, is believed to have died of a heart attack.
He had been on a business trip, running the first Singapore-operated medical centre on the island in southern China, said the Asian American Medical Group on Sunday evening.
Dr Tan was the executive chairman of the Singapore-based medical group, which includes the Asian American Liver Centre – a clinic in Gleneagles Hospital – where he practised.
Ms Angela Choong, its group chief financial controller, said Dr Tan had sent his usual “good morning” greetings to her and other colleagues hours before he died between 8.30am and 9.30am in his hotel room.
“His death was very sudden and the team is still coming to grips with it. Dr Tan was a good boss who was very well-respected in his profession. He cared immensely for his patients and worked tirelessly to give them the best care,” said Ms Choong.
Dr Tan leaves behind his wife and daughter.
He was more well-known as the surgeon who performed a liver transplant on Ms De Cruz – local actor Pierre Png’s wife – who suffered liver failure and almost died after taking dubious slimming pills in 2002.
Mr Png, her then boyfriend, donated part of his liver to save her. This was the first transplant where the Ministry of Health allowed non-related living donors to donate.
In an Instagram story on Sunday evening, Ms De Cruz wrote :”Rest in peace KC… thank you for the last 19 years. I miss you already…”
Mr Png also posted a tribute to the surgeon on his Instagram page: “Nineteen years ago, you gave her life! You did everything you could, and year after year since, we celebrate our transplant anniversary.
“Many continue to praise me for what I did, but I always say it was all you KC… Today we lost a great man, a pioneer in liver transplant surgery.”
Dr Tan also treated Johor Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar’s late son, who succumbed to stage four liver cancer in 2015, also on Dec 5.
Offering his condolences in a Facebook post on Sunday afternoon, Sultan Ibrahim wrote: “Dato’ Dr K.C. Tan headed the team of the Singapore doctors who looked after and treated my late son, Almarhum Tunku Abdul Jalil, Tunku Laksamana of Johor.
“It is a strange coincidence that he passed away today, on the same day that Jalil left us. May Dr K.C. Tan rest in peace.”
The surgeon was renowned for his pioneering work in living donor liver transplants (LDLT), which refers to liver transplant surgery from a living donor.
He pioneered the living donor liver transplantation programme in Singapore, and helped to start the liver transplant programme at the King’s College Hospital in London.
In April 2002, the first successful LDLT in adults in South-east Asia was performed at Gleneagles Hospital. Dr Tan and his team have performed about 240 LDLTs.
Among the 400 liver transplants he had performed in Britain between 1986 and 1994, many were procedures that were carried out for the first time there.
He also successfully completed the first pilot study on LDLT for children in Britain. In 1995, he performed South-east Asia’s first paediatric LDLT at a medical centre in Kuala Lumpur.
In 1996, he was appointed director of the liver transplant programme at the National University Hospital.
The Asian American Medical Group added in its statement that its board of directors will convene a meeting soon to discuss the appointment of a managing director, or chairman, or both to succeed Dr Tan.