Dr KC Tan - a tribute

08 December 2021 - King's pays tribute to liver transplant surgeon Dr Tan Kai Chah (‘Dr KC Tan’)

Dr KC Tan

A tribute to the late Dr KC Tan (pictured) from Professor Michael Heneghan, Professor of Hepatology and Consultant Hepatologist, on behalf of the wider liver team at King’s.

“Earlier this week, we were deeply saddened to hear about the sudden death of liver transplant surgeon, and our former colleague and friend, KC Tan.

KC was a true pioneer in the field of liver transplantation, and was instrumental in setting up both the adult and paediatric liver transplant programmes here at King's.

KC came to King's in the mid-1980s to work with paediatric and adult hepatobiliary surgeon Professor Edward Howard, and together they started an experimental transplant programme based at the hospital, with the support of Professor Ken Hobbs at the Royal Free Hospital.

Establishing the liver transplant programme at King’s

At that time, it was not possible to offer liver transplantation to patients with hepatitis B virus infection, and it was increasingly difficult to transfer sick patients with acute liver failure.

This was particularly true for children who had undergone Kasai procedures for biliary atresia. Some of these children would not benefit from the procedure, and many would require urgent liver transplantation. On that basis, agreement was reached with Professor Roy Calne - based in Cambridge - for this group of patients to undergo liver transplantation.

After learning the techniques associated with liver reduction surgery from Professor JB Otte, KC then set about - in partnership with the late Professor Roger Williams and Professor Alex Mowatt - establishing the liver transplant centre here at King’s.

In the first year, an agreement was made that no more than 20 transplants would be undertaken - in reality, 40 successful surgeries were performed. Within five years, surgeons Nigel Heaton and Mohammed Rela were added to the team, and the number of both adult and paediatric transplants carried out each year soon totalled more than 100.

A pioneer in the field

A pioneer in the field, KC developed techniques in live donor liver transplantation - which involves a person, often a relative, donating part of their liver to a person in need.

He was also instrumental in making auxiliary liver transplantation an established treatment - this technique involves removing a part of the liver and a smaller set of segments grafted to replace faulty liver function, particularly in children with metabolic liver disease.

Indeed, following that first trailblazing surgery of adult to child live donor liver transplantation in October 1993, Audrey Carolan (weighing just 15 pounds) underwent successful surgery here at King's. 25 years later, the first five children who received these transplants in the early days of the programme were reunited.

His contribution cannot be overestimated

By 1994, KC was a sought-after surgeon, and he returned to south-east Asia to perform the first adult to adult live donor liver transplant in the region.

His contribution to the rebirth and renaissance of liver transplantation at King's cannot be overestimated.

He helped train subsequent brilliant liver surgeons including Professor Nigel Heaton, Professor Mohammed Rela, Professor Paolo Muiesan, and generations of other transplant surgeons.

A consultant here at King's College Hospital between 1989 and 1994, his contribution was immense.”