Dr Charles Lee


Meet HEARTtalk Host: Dr Charles Lee

Dr Charles Lee is a Consultant Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon

in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. He is a Fellow of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons of Edinburgh (FRCS Edinburgh), Glasgow (FRCS Glasgow) and Ireland (FRCS Ireland). Read Bio here

Dr Lee is also the Founder and Director of the Asia Pacific Consultation On Discipleship (APCOD).

My Open Heart Bypass Story

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KOTA KINABALU, August 8, 2011

Cause I’m leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again…

John Denver’s song ‘Leaving on a Jet plane’ was all too real for me. All preparations had been made for my 2 sons Jeremy and David to join me on a 2 week study cum holiday trip to London, England. pembrokeAll reservations had been made at Pembroke College, Oxford, England for a Christian Discipleship Conference from 14-18 August followed with a trip to Amsterdam. After 6 months of planning, air tickets bought, hotel rooms paid for, we were all set to leave for London on August 12, 2011.

Stress Treadmill ECG done on August 5 showed inconclusive changes. An Echocardiogram done on the same day was normal. There had been no history of chest pain except for being overweight and having high blood pressure. As a precautionary measure to determine the cause of fluctuations of my blood pressure, a CT Angiogram was done to visualize the coronary arteries. I was shocked, numb and in disbelief when my colleagues showed me the result – Advanced Triple vessel coronary artery disease with multiple blocks. I was immediately referred for a Coronary angiogram to be done at the National Heart Institute (Institute Jantung Negara, IJN) in Kuala Lumpur.

I was now leaving home on a jet plane, from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia to Kuala Lumpur, for a totally different reason – not to London for an already pre-planned period of 2 weeks with my 2 sons but God had a different plan for me for the next 2 weeks in Kuala Lumpur, a plan that will forever change the course of my life.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9

KUALA LUMPUR, August 12, 2011 – National Heart Institute (IJN)

Coronary angiogram confirmed triple vessel disease with multiple blocks requiring coronary artery bypass vein grafts (CABG). My Cardiologist, Datuk Dr Amin Ariff, was a colleague who had worked with me at the General Hospital, Kuala Lumpur. Meeting him for the first time after 30 years was a blessing I will never forget because we shared some great time together 30 years ago and this time we were meeting for a TOTALLY different reason and this time I WAS THE PATIENT!.

I was immediately referred to the Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Heart Surgeon Prof. Dato’ Dr. Mohd Azhari Yakub and scheduled for open heart bypass surgery.

My open-heart triple bypass surgery taught me about myself

Dr. Charles Lee

August 20, 2011 – Day of Surgery

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24

My son Dr Jeremy Lee helped me through the night before surgery. He was my ‘armour-bearer’ ( 1 Samuel 14:7 “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.” ). Jeremy shared the weight of my anxiety, worry, burden and uncertainty of what lay ahead but his faith that ALL will be well and I will be on that jet plane back to Kota Kinabalu was a blessing from God. Jeremy made sure that I did all the pre-operative breathing exercises the night before surgery. On the night before surgery I wrote 4 letters to all the members of my family – my wife Monica, Jeremy, David and Sarah – sharing the deep thoughts of my heart and thanking each of them for ALL they had done and meant to  me. This was most difficult. I thank God for having blessed me with a wonderful wife and God-fearing children.

The IJN Ward Staff were terrific and prepared me well. I was ready. The Clinical Specialist of the Cardio-Thoracic Team Dr Lam Hong Yoong prayed for me and was always there for me both pre-and post-operatively. A Heart Surgeon of strong faith.

August 21, 2011 – 1st Post-operative Day – Coronary Care Unit (CCU)

2 nights in CCU were the most trying and difficult time for me. A surgeon by profession and now a patient by circumstances of health. My heart bypass surgery taught me more about myself. I realised how fragile life is and this was a second chance to live right before a Holy God.

Rehabilitation exercises were started on the 3rd post-operative day. I was on the exercise bicycle daily. The closest ‘friend’ I had was a small square pillow that saved the moment of the day each time I coughed or sneezed.

August 26, 2011 – 5th Post-operative Day – Discharge

I was discharged on August 26, 2011 hugging my pillow and thanking God for an uneventful post-operative period. I am deeply grateful to the extremely wonderful, deeply committed National Heart Centre (IJN) staff and expert medical professionals. They epitomised the excellence in medical care and I salute every one of them – from the barber who shaved me from my neck to my ankles which reminded me how I must have looked when I first entered the world to the Chief of Cardiothoracic surgery Prof. Dato’ Dr. Mohd Azhari Yakub.

The memory of my wife Monica and my 3 children Jeremy, David and Sarah standing along the corridor and clapping and proclaiming ‘Well done Daddy’ as I was wheeled out of CCU hugging my pillow while seated on a wheel chair are eternally inked in the endothelial lining of my new bypass vein grafts. My family support was ALL that mattered including that of my brother Dr Vernon Lee and his wife Kim, my sister Emily and brother Foster and wife Cynthia in Australia and most of all, my Mum who prayed for me each day.

August 28, 2011 – One Week after Open Heart surgery

We celebrated my first week after my heart surgery with a heart healthy lunch at Msignatureid Valley Megamall in Kuala Lumpur.

I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done. The LORD has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death.  Psalm 118: 17-18