Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Close Call

Mahathir told Tom Plate about his heart surgery in the "Conversations" book, "I had my operation by a local doctor, you know, I didn't go abroad." He was expressing his confidence in Malaysian medical schools,
Yeah, 64. Well 1989, yeah I was 64. I had a heart attack and Malaysian doctors diagnosed it as an infarction, and they said I need to have a bypass. So, they asked me whether I wanted to go to America, to the Mayo Clinic or whatever, but I asked them whether they could do it, and they said they can but usually VIPs go to America. I said I didn't mind if I can be treated here, because if I had no confidence in my own people, how can I expect other people to have confidence in them?

Queried by Plate if he was then making a political decision and not a medical one, Mahathir paused and laughed, "Yeah I was making a political decision," a harbinger of a life or death enormity. The gravity of the moment was flipped to hilarity by a quote attributed to Ronald Regan as he was rushed into hospital after the 1981 assassination attempt. "I just hope the surgeon is a Republican."

In his long awaited memoirs, launched yesterday, Mahathir reveals that the doctor he trusted with his life is heart specialist Yahya Awang, son of a family friend. The interesting aside is that, on the eve of the operation, at the late hour of 10 pm, MM Lee Kuan Yew rang his wife Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali. "He asked her to persuade me to postpone the operation because he had a medical team ready ready to fly to Kuala Lumpur, with the well-known cardiac surgeon, Dr Victor Chang, a Singaporean living in Australia, to do the surgery."

The wife told Lee that he had already made up his mind and that the family agreed with him. Thanks, but no thanks. Rebuffed, Lee even made an appeal to former finance minister Daim Zainuddin to intercede with the Mrs. Of Daim, Mahathir wrote in another chapter, "One thing about him that I didn't like, however, was his closeness to Lee Kuan Yew." Notice there is no record of an attempt to speak to the patient directly.

Mahathir had a second operation - apparently a redo is usually required after ten years - 16 years later in 2007, with the same Malaysian doctor in attendance. Now, the $64K question, was Mahathir also making a political decision over a medical one in rejecting Lee's offer of Victor Chang? Would Chee Soon Juan go under the knife if Dr Ng Eng Hen was the surgeon?


  1. Was that the Dr Victor Chang originally from HKG that was later murdered ? Was he ever a Singaporean?

  2. The account is excerpted from Mahathir's memoir. The Victor Chang who was shot in Sydney was born in Shanghai to Australian-born Chinese parents.

  3. it would have been an irony if Dr M, a doctor by training himself actually took LKY's advice on which doctor to see.
    Dr M probably anticipated that LKY will brag to the whole world about it and constantly remind him until LKY goes to his grave.

  4. Had Mahathir used the medical Lee Kuan Yew recommended and prepared, there would not be any guarantee that the operation will be successful.
    On the other had, if it was successful, Mahathir would have owed the remainder of his life to Lee Kuan Yew.
    Mahathir is a much wiser man.