Victor Chang

1936 - 1991

Victor's Story

Dr Victor Chang was one of Australia’s most gifted heart surgeons, a pioneer of modern heart transplant surgery and a humanitarian. 

A national hero, Victor Chang was hailed as “the most prominent doctor in the southern hemisphere”, and his revolutionary work in the field of heart transplantation had implications for cardiac patients, not only in Australia and Southeast Asia around the globe.  

Dr Chang personally saved hundreds of lives. In 1984 he led a team of surgeons who successfully performed a heart transplant on school girl, Fiona Coote. At the age of 14, Fiona defied all odds to become Australia’s youngest heart transplant survivor, and some 31 years later remains very well. 

In that same year, Dr Chang founded the National Heart Transplant Program at St Vincent’s Hospital, which has since performed thousands of successful transplants. 

Dr Chang also played a key role in developing an artificial heart valve and an artificial heart assist device.  

In 1986, Dr Chang was awarded our country’s highest honour, a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) and in 2000, was voted Australian of the Century by the people of Australia. 

A caring surgeon and humanitarian, Dr Chang was passionate about the power of discovery. He had a bold vision to establish a world-class medical research institute, knowing that while he could save hundreds of lives through surgery, he could save thousands more through research.  

Victor Chang died in tragic circumstances in Sydney on 4 July 1991. He is remembered as a quiet, charming man, much loved by his patients and friends, his wife Ann and his children Vanessa, Matthew and Marcus. 

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute is dedicated to his memory.

Victor's Early Life

Victor's grandparents arrived in Australia during the gold rush in the mid 1800s. Victor's father, Aubrey Chang, was born in Tamworth, while Victor's mother, May Lee, was born in Inverell in north west New South Wales. In the early 1930s his parents moved to Hong Kong, where they met and married. Together, they then moved to Shanghai.

Victor Chang (Yam Him) was born in Shanghai in November 1936. Shortly after, Japanese forces invaded Shanghai and the Chang family returned to Hong Kong when Victor was just two years old. In 1948, Victor's mother died of breast cancer, prompting Victor to consider pursuing a career in medicine.

In the early 1950s, Aubrey Chang decided to send Victor and his younger sister to stay with extended family in Sydney, Australia. It was a six week journey by passenger ship from Hong Kong to Sydney.

During his first year in Australia he lived in Campsie and attended a local school in Belmore. Victor completed his schooling at the Christian Brothers College in Lewisham.

In 1962 he graduated from Sydney University with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery. 

He completed an internship at St Vincent's Hospital Sydney, before moving overseas to further pursue his career. After training in cardiothoracic surgery at the Mayo Clinic and in the UK, he returned to St Vincent’s Hospital.

For the next two decades, he operated alongside his colleagues Dr Harry Windsor and Dr Mark Shanahan, who had performed Australia’s first ever heart transplant in 1968.

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