BY ALEX SINNOT | The Courier
Warrnambool welder Michael Lee became the first south-west resident to receive a heart transplant when he went under the knife of famed surgeon Victor Chang in August 1986.
The father of three was flown to Sydney to undergo surgery at St Vincent’s Hospital and was operated on for six hours by a team of surgeons led by Dr Chang. The much-publicised operation managed to prolong Mr Lee’s life by more than a decade before he died aged 45 in 1997.
Ms Lee Ward said her late father had to battle against rejection of his new heart and medication side effects including gout, skin cancer, and cataracts.
“I was 18 years old when he passed away but there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think of Dad,” Ms Lee Ward said.
“Looking back 25 years after he underwent surgery made me think about all the headlines it made at the time.
“The anti-rejection drugs they gave to Dad were quite experimental.
“Heart transplant surgery had been around for a while back in the mid-1980s but it had gained a lot of attention at that time because of the success Dr Chang had and the recovery rate he managed to achieve.”
Ms Lee Ward said her father’s experience meant the Lee family had long been supporters of organ donation.
“As soon as my sisters and I were eligible to sign up to the organ donation register, we did because we knew how important it was for so many other families out there,” she said.
For more information go to www.donatelife.gov.au.