• Vol. 44 No. 8, 307–311
  • 15 August 2015

A Tribute to Tham Cheok Fai, “Founding Father” of Singapore Neurosurgery



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1n 1960, Dr Tseng Yuen Lin returned home as the first formally trained Singaporean neurosurgeon after a 2-year stint at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney. He unfortunately passed away of perforated appendicitis in 1962. Dr Tham Cheok Fai (Figs 1a and 1b) (commonly referred to by his trainees as “Mr Tham”), an aspiring spine surgeon at Orthopaedic ‘C’ Unit, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), was selected to succeed Dr Tseng after his passing. Mr Tham trained at Guy’s Maudsley and King’s College Hospital under world-renowned epilepsy neurosurgeon Professor Murray Alexander Falconer from 1963 to 1965. He returned to establish the first section of neurosurgery in 1965 at the Thomson Road Hospital (TRH). The fledgling neurosurgical service proved to be a resounding success by nearly doubling its operative volume by the early 1970s and receiving training accreditation by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS). In 1972, the Singapore government decided to develop specialisation in the neurosciences and commissioned the building of a new neuroscience department at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH). In 1973, the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery was opened, with Mr Tham as the Head of Department. From 1974 to 1976, the department received much needed support from American and Canadian neurosurgeons through the Foundation for International Education in Neurological Surgery (FIENS), and by late 1975, was pronounced a “mature” unit according to standards of the FIENS programme. By the mid-1980s, the neurosurgical unit at TTSH already sported 8 fully qualified neurosurgeons as well as the latest state-of-the-art operative and imaging equipment.

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