Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Yahya Awang was born in Singapore on September 7, 1950. He graduated as a medical doctor from Monash University, Melbourne in 1974. Following his graduation, he served as a medical officer in Hospital Johor Bahru and Kota Tinggi.
He was trained as a Surgical Registrar in Hospital Kuala Lumpur and pursued his postgraduate training in the United Kingdom by obtaining the FRCS (Glasgow) in 1980. He trained as a Cardiac Surgeon from 1980 to 1983 at the Brompton Hospital in London.
Upon his return to Malaysia, Dr Yahya was faced with a large number of patients with heart disease requiring surgical intervention. At the time, cardiac surgery was in its infancy and there were inadequate facilities and medical personnel to cope with the number of patients requiring open-heart surgery. Many of the patients on the long waiting list either did not survive the wait or resorted to getting treatment abroad.
It was at this time that Dr Yahya played a significant and pioneering role in the development of cardiac surgery in Malaysia.
“My priority at the time was to treat as many patients as possible with the limited resources available. At General Hospital Kuala Lumpur, with only one operating theatre, my team and I were able to perform over 1,000 cases (surgeries), which included surgery for coronary heart disease, valvular and congenital heart disease,” he says.
“With the growing demand, we needed to also train and educate more doctors and medical personnel,” he adds.
Dr Yahya spent 25 years at the General Hospital Kuala Lumpur and subsequently at the National Heart Institute (IJN) as Head of Cardiac Surgery. Over a span of 30 years as a Cardiac Surgeon, Dr Yahya performed no less than 5,000 open-heart surgeries and trained more than 50 Cardiac Surgeons.
With a dedicated and trained team, he successfully performed the first Heart Transplant in Malaysia on 18 December 1997. The success of this operation and other cardiac surgeries performed, enhanced the confidence of the Malaysian public to have cardiac surgical procedures locally.
Dr Yahya was instrumental in training cardiac surgeons and cardiac paramedics to meet the needs of the nation. Following the establishment of cardiac centres at the Hospital Kuala Lumpur and IJN, today Cardiac Surgical Services are available throughout Malaysia. From an initial number of three in 1984, there are currently 57 Cardiac Surgeons in Malaysia and more continue to train and be trained.
Dr Yahya, together with colleagues, pioneered the establishment of the National Heart Institute (IJN). During his tenure at IJN, he established the Clinical Research Unit, which enabled the Institute to undertake various clinical research and collection of relevant clinical data in Cardiac Surgery. He has published 23 scientific papers in local and international scientific journals and made 15 presentations at various conferences. With his appointment as President of the Asian Cardiac Surgical Society (1992-1994), he led and represented Malaysia in numerous International Conferences on Cardiac Surgery. This has put Malaysia on the regional map as an excellent training centre for cardiac surgery and has attracted trainees from Indonesia, Japan, Yemen, Myanmar and Bangladesh. In addition, he founded the IJN Foundation, an organisation that provides financial assistance to financially disadvantaged patients requiring cardiac surgery, scholarships for cardiac trainees and research on Heart Diseases.
Cardiac surgical services has contributed towards Medical Tourism in this country, attracting patients from neighboring countries such as Indonesia, Brunei, Myanmar and the Middle East.
Dr Yahya and his colleagues founded the Malaysian Cardiac Surgical Society and he became it’s founding President in 1992. The society currently plays an active role in regulating standard, credentials and accreditation of cardiac surgical services in Malaysia.
Besides the major centres under the Ministry of Health hospitals, Dr Yahya also assisted in the establishment of Cardiac Surgery Services in UKM and USM, Kubang Kerian. He performed the first Open-heart Surgeries in these two University Hospitals.
Dr Yahya is currently the Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon at Damansara Specialist Hospital. He was the Chairman of the National Transplant Registry and a Council Member of the Association of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgeons of Asia and was recently appointed as the Pro-Chancellor of University Technology Malaysia (UTM).
LEFT: Studying in boarding school in Melbourne, preparing for university entrance exam, 1968
RIGHT: Dr Yahya receiving the Panglima Setia Mahkota (PSM) award from Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin
In reflecting the unyielding and indomitable Spirit of Merdeka, Dr Yahya pioneered and elevated the practice of cardiothoracic surgery and education in Malaysia to international standards. He continues to be an inspiration and a role model for aspiring medical doctors and surgeons in the country.
Dr Yahya’s many professional achievements include performing open heart surgery; pioneering the establishment of The National Heart Institute of Malaysia in 1992; and performing the first Heart Transplant in Malaysia in 1998. He is the author of many scholarly and professional articles.