This Man May Open Your Heart: Hung Chi-Jen, the Great Cardiac Surgeon 【Parent-Child Reading Guide】


Colorful childhood and teenage years

Dr. Hung Chi-Jen (1930–2016) came from the township of Chaochou, in Pingtung, Taiwan.  He was born into a family that had been Christian as early as the generation of his grandfather, Mr. Hung Lao-I.  Grandfather Hung started with a humble beginning by selling bean sprouts at the local public market.  Through his hard work, he brought up two sons, both of whom became medical doctors.  Dr. Hung Yueh-Pai, the second-born of Hung Lao-I, was married to a kindergarten teacher, Yeh Chin-Lan (the sister to Rev. Yeh Chin-Mu).  They had three sons and one daughter.  Hung Chi-Jen was the second son.

Hung Yueh-Pai studied at Doshisha University (Kyoto, Japan) and the medical college of the Government-General of Taiwan (precursor to the National Taiwan University Medical School).  After his medical training, he returned to his hometown and started the Tung-Jen Medical Clinic.  He would often ride his Harley-Davidson motorcycle or a pony, Kingride, to make his clinical rounds around the town.  He carried grains or supplies with him to help the poor during these visits.  He also planted banana trees to make dried banana chips for exports.  Later on, when his granddaughter studied Food Science at the university (a major that was not well-known at the time), he proudly encouraged her to continue and promised to help her open a canning company.

When Hung Chi-Jen was ten years old, he and his older brother, Hung Chen-Jen went to a school in Tokyo, Japan.  But due to the Second World War, their financial source from Taiwan was cut off.   With the support from a classmate, they took a ship from Kyushu to Chosen (Korea), and then through China passing cities such as Dairen (Dalian), Shanghai, Amoy (Xiamen), before returning to Taiwan.  After returning, Hung Chi-Jen studied at the Pingtung High School and ranked number one throughout his study there.  It was at that time that he decided to pursue a career in surgery.  His parents were generous to the community and kind to the sojourners.  They often hosted missionaries from foreign countries. This provided Hung Chi-Jen with a solid English language foundation.  Later, his fluency in Japanese and English became important assets in his study in medicine.

Hung with his Parents and siblings


Studying medicine and starting a family

In 1948, Hung traveled north to study medicine at National Taiwan University (NTU).  He and his brother rented a room from Rev. Chen Ching-I and his wife, Ms. Mary Ellen Mackay (the daughter of George William Mackay) in Wanhua.  He would work part-time jobs after school to earn his living expense.  He also had an interest in learning the violin.  He frequently volunteered at the local clinics to improve his skills in performing injection and venipuncture.  During the summer break before starting his sixth year in medical school, he toured the island of Taiwan with his classmates.  It was then that he met Ms. Chen Tsai-Fan, the daughter of a physician.  She was working at the First Commercial Bank at the time.  They got married in his hometown, Chaochou, in 1955.  He was drafted into the military 4 days after his wedding and started working as a naval medical officer in Tsoying, Kaohsiung.

Mr. Hung Yueh-Pai was wrongfully taken to jail during the infamous 228 Incident.  His family spent the family fortune to get him out.  And during the time of the White Terror, he was again put on a wanted list based on a false allegation.  His friend, Mr. Kuo Kuo-Chi, urged him to report to the police station in Taipei.  The charge was cleared and the matter was dropped eventually.  As a result, Hung Yueh-Pai taught his two sons, both medical doctors, to focus on the practice of medicine and stay away from politics. “Do not taint your white coat with any colors,” he warned.

In 1957, Hung, at the age of 28, started his medical training under the strict guidance of his professor, Dr. Lin Tien-Yu at the NTU Hospital.  He received a rigorous internship, residency, and chief residency training.  During the routine hospital rounds, Dr. Lin would raise his temper and toss medical records out the window when the students were not prepared to answer questions based on the clinical symptoms presented by the patients.  Dr. Hung was one of the few who was not the recipient of his anger.  He received a meager salary while working as a doctor-in-training.  In order to make ends meet, he took on night shifts at Mackay Memorial Hospital.  When he became a resident physician, he often showed up at the emergency room to offer his assistance.  By the time he became a chief resident, he was well-versed in common surgical procedures. 


The road to Cardiology

Hung was interested in pursuing a career in oncology initially but his professor, Dr. Lin, convinced him to go into cardiology while encouraged him to pursue his interest in cancer research.  In 1961, Lin visited America and brought the first heart-lung machine back to Taiwan.  After putting the machine together, Hung and his colleagues started experimenting with the machine using swine blood they collected from the local slaughterhouse in about a dozen visits.  Subsequently, they performed open-heart surgery on dogs twice a week.  Hung personally bred a pack of dogs in order to harvest the blood supply needed for these surgical experiments. 

Dr. Lin Tien-Yu


In 1963, Hung did his first two open-heart procedures on a 13-year-old girl and then on a 7-year-old girl.  Unfortunately, both cases did not succeed.  The shadow of these failed attempts haunted Hung.  At that time, Dr. George Humphreys visited Taiwan.  After discussing with Dr. Lin, they decided to send Hung to America to receive further training.  By this time, Hung had received comprehensive medical training in Taiwan and an externship from the Tokyo Women's Medical University.  He then took a research fellowship at Columbia University’s medical center, where he received further training from Dr. James Malm and Dr. Frederick Bowman until 1965.  During that time, he lived in New York on a meager stipend provided by Columbia.  There were times when he was not able to pay for the subway fare and had to walk for hours in cold winter nights to get home.  At that time, he was a father of three.  While living in American, his wife brought the children back to his hometown, Chaochou, to live with his parents.


After returning to Taiwan, Hung performed his first open-heart surgery on a 30-year-old male.  This patient suffered from heart failure related to rheumatic fever and required a heart valve prosthesis.  After the success of the operation, Lin stepped down and appointed Dr. Hung to be the next chair of the Cardiothoracic Department.  Since then, Dr. Hung carried the load of performing open-heart surgeries at the Taiwan National University Hospital.  He specializes in using the one-finger method (a thumb for the adults, and the pinkie for children).  He was able to overcome many obstacles and eventually became the expert on the surgical procedure correcting the tetralogy of Fallot.


Major milestones

Hung’s contribution in the field of cardiac surgery in Taiwan is vast.  Over the years, he trained many great surgeons at the NTU Hospital. In 1979, he coordinated the conjoined twins separation operation, and then performed the difficult surgery (the second in the world) with his team.  He also took on the position to lead the Taiwan-Arabia Medical Team as a way to promote foreign relationships through medical missions.  He was instrumental in fostering the working relationship between the NTU Hospital and Cathay General Hospital for 10 years.  In 2010, he accepted the invitation by Chairman Eugene Wu of Shin Kong Group and became the first medical director of the newly formed Shin Kong Hospital.  His many accolades will be described in more detail subsequently.  He envisioned the possibility of starting a cardiological center in his 60s but this did not come to fruition by the time he retired in his 80s.  A copy of the 1948 Declaration of Geneva 1948, the modern Hippocratic Oath, is an important daily reminder that he kept on his office desk. 


A disciplined yet kind-hearted leader

Throughout his early days as a resident physician at the NTU Hospital and his medical training in the United States, Hung lived on a meager salary.  In spite of the improvement in his financial status in the later years, he remained kind and compassionate to his students and doctors-in-training. 

In his class, Hung emphasized the importance of swift, yet not rushed, surgical techniques.  Performing surgery is a delicate combination of art and science.  Every surgical stroke has a meaning and each angle is intentional.  One does not perform unnecessary operations and no organ is dispensable.  Hung assisted his students through many surgical procedures.  He would offer constructive criticisms without getting overly emotional.  The more urgent the case, the calmer one needs to be.  He would often take his team of physicians out for a late-night snack to boost morale.

Physicians, from the University of Taipei, the Kaohsiung Medical School, the Chung-Shan University, and the Veteran’s Hospital, would come to learn from Hung. During the discussion sessions, Hung offered insights and suggestions from his personal experience with the good intention that all these physicians can be successful in their fields.  He had enjoyed playing tennis since his college days.  And since taking up the role as the varsity manger, he financially supported student-athletes.  He provided room and board during their tournaments out of town so that these athletes can receive adequate rest.  The ICU beds at the NTU Hospital did not open until 1975.  Prior to that, Hung would personally stay with the post-operative patients until their conditions had stabilized.


The Precious family of Dr. Hung Chi-Jen

For a long time, Hung would enter the operating room early in the morning.  He frequently worked without eating for the whole day as he was laser-focused on the operations.  It is only until late at night after he returned home that he can relax and enjoy a delicious homemade meal in a large bowl.  His wife patiently helped him answer calls in the middle of the night so that he would not miss important emergency surgeries, and to screen out excessive calls from over-zealous reporters.

Hung’s work schedule was so hectic that even his mother, Yeh, had to take a number at his clinic in order to talk to him.  He also worried that his relationship with his children would be distant since he was unable to spend enough time with them.  On nights when he returned late, he would wake up the children from their sleep to introduce himself so that they would not forget him.  To him, his five children are more precious than diamonds.  Even though a physician himself, his children had to chase after Hung to make sure that he took the required medicines as prescribed when he was ill.  He sought out opportunities, such as sewing his daughter’s diaper, to hone his surgical skill.  And with the help of his wife, they once opened a private surgical facility, the Pa-Te Clinic.  The family enjoyed many happy years together while managing this clinic.

After his retirement, Hung remained active in the medical arena.  He had more time to spend with his family, including the five daughters and sons-in-law, and the ten grandchildren.  They often traveled as a group.  While creating this storybook, the editorial team visited his family on a couple of occasions and had numerous mail correspondences.  The family expressed much respect for the contributions Hung had in the medical community and the personal care he provided for his patients.  He was not only a husband, a father, a grandfather, but also an exemplary role model in the medical field in Taiwan.  One of his grandchildren asked, “Can we title this book as, ‘The Best Scalpel-Wielder in the World’?”  This has a swordsman-like and creative touch to it!  This title captures the great personality of Hung.


Dr. Hung Chi-Jen’s Belief

Dr. Hung Chi-Jen lived as a dedicated Christian.  Due to the demands of his work, he was unable to participate in serving in the church.  Nevertheless, he attended church services regularly and was diligent in his bible study.  He lived the teaching of the scripture by loving and caring for patients who are in hardship, and quietly supported those who are financially struggling.  His Christian belief brought him peace and tranquility, and helped him to remain steadfast through the storms as well as the ups and downs in life.

The Hung family

Photo credit: the Hung family.