Victor Peter Chang, AC (born Chang Yam Him; 21 November 1936 – 4 July 1991), was a Chinese-born Australian cardiac surgeon and a pioneer of modern heart transplantation. Born in Shanghai to Australian-born Chinese parents, he grew up in Hong Kong before moving to Australia.
After completing his medical studies at the University of Sydney and working in St Vincent’s Hospital, he trained in the United Kingdom and the United States as a surgeon before returning to Australia. In St Vincent’s Hospital, he helped establish the National Cardiac Transplant Unit, the country’s leading centre for heart and lung transplants.
Chang’s team had a high success rate in performing heart transplantations and he pioneered the development of an artificial heart valve.
In 1986, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia for his “service to international relations between Australia and China and to medical science”. In 1991, Chang died after being shot in a failed extortion attempt against him.
His legacy includes the creation of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, being voted Australian of the Century at the People’s Choice Awards, and the establishment of the Victor Chang Lowy Packer Building in St Vincent’s Hospital.
Chang was born in Shanghai to Australian-born Chinese parents. He grew up in Hong Kong, where he attended primary school in Kowloon Tong and spent two years in St. Paul’s College, Hong Kong.
Chang’s father, Aubrey, sent Victor and his younger sister to Sydney, Australia in 1951 to stay with extended family. Chang attended Belmore Boys’ High School in Belmore and completed his secondary education at Christian Brothers’ High School in Lewisham.
On 7 April 1948, Chang’s mother died from breast cancer, at the age of 33 years, prompting him to consider a career in medicine.
Chang undertook his tertiary education at the University of Sydney, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Medical Science with First-Class Honours and a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery in 1962.
After completing his medical education, Chang interned at St Vincent’s Hospital under the tutelage of cardiac surgeon Mark Shanahan before Shanahan sent him to the London, United Kingdom to train with surgeon Aubrey York Mason.
Chang became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1966 and trained in cardiothoracic surgery at the Royal Brompton Hospital. In London, he met and married his wife Ann (née Simmons).
Chang spent two years in the United States at the Mayo Clinic and became chief resident. In 1972, he returned to St Vincent’s Hospital, where he was a consultant cardiothoracic surgeon and was appointed Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1973 and Fellow of the American College of Surgeons in 1975.
In St Vincent’s Hospital, he worked with surgeons Dr Harry Windsor (who had performed Australia’s first heart transplant in 1968 and Dr Mark Shanahan.
The advent of anti-rejection drugs in 1980 made heart transplants more feasible, and Chang lobbied politicians and businessmen to raise funds to establish a heart transplant program at St. Vincent’s. On 8 April 1984, a team of doctors led by Chang operated on 14-year-old Fiona Coote who became Australia’s youngest heart transplant patient.
Between 1984 and 1990, Dr Chang’s unit performed over 197 heart transplants and 14 heart-lung transplants. The unit had a high rate of success with 90% of those receiving transplants from the unit surviving beyond the first year.
In 1986, Victor Chang was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) “in recognition of service to international relations between Australia and China and to medical science”.
Concerned about a shortage of organ donors, he arranged financing and assembled a team of scientists and engineers from around the world to develop an artificial heart.
That team, working in Singapore, Guangzhou and Sydney, also developed mechanical and tissue heart valves called the St. Vincent’s Heart Valves, which were widely implanted throughout Asia. Dr Chang and his team also made significant progress on the design of an artificial heart. His research projects ended with his death.
On 4 July 1991, Chang was shot twice in the head in a failed extortion attempt. His body was found slumped in the gutter next to his car in the Sydney suburb of Mosman.
Two Malaysian men, Chew Seng (Ah Sung) Liew and Choon Tee (Phillip) Lim, ran their car into Chang’s vehicle, forcing him to pull over.
After Chang refused to give them money and got into an argument with them, Liew fired the fatal shots; the first entered near the right cheek and exited below the right ear, while the fatal second, fired from point-blank range, entered the right temple and passed through the brain.