Victor Peter Chang Yam Him was born in Shanghai, China, on 21 November 1936.
Chang’s mother died of cancer when he was just twelve years old, and this was a deciding factor in his choice to become a doctor.
He came to Australia to complete his secondary schooling in 1953, then studied medicine at the University of Sydney, graduating with a Bachelor of Medical Science with first class honours in 1960, and a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery in 1962.
After further study in England, and becoming a Fellow of both the Royal College of Surgeons and American College of Surgeons, he joined the cardiothoracic team at St Vincent’s Hospital in 1972.
Chang was instrumental in raising funds to establish a heart transplant programme at St Vincent’s.
The first successful transplant under the programme was performed on a 39 year old shearer from Armidale in February 1984, who survived several months longer than he would have otherwise.
Arguably, Chang’s best-known success was when he operated on Fiona Coote, a 14-year-old schoolgirl, on 7-8 April 1984.
Over the next six years, the unit at St Vincent’s performed over 197 heart transplants and 14 heart-lung transplants, achieving a 90% success rate for recipients in the first year.
To compensate for the lack of heart donors, Chang developed an artificial heart valve and also worked on designing an artificial heart.
Victor Chang was murdered on 4 July 1991, after an extortion attempt on his family.
The murder was related to transplant waiting lists. Within less than two weeks, Chiew Seng Liew was charged with the murder, and Jimmy Tan was charged as an accessory.
The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, to enable research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of heart muscle diseases, was launched in honour of Victor Chang on 15 February 1994.
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