Farewell to Dr 'Superman' Shun

For hundreds of families, Dr Albert Shun is more than a surgeon. He is a real-world Superman who gave their children more time and a second chance of life.

Whether it be transplant surgery, cancer operations, or even separating conjoined twins - Dr Shun is a pioneering, world-class surgeon who has built a reputation as a clinician focussed on compassionate, family-centred care.

But there becomes a time when all heroes must hang up their capes and that time has now come for Dr Shun.

Leaving a long-lasting legacy in paediatric transplant and general surgery globally, Dr Shun is retiring following an incredible career spanning more than four decades.

Dr Shun dedicated 45 years of his life to the public service and called the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network (SCHN) home for almost all of this time.

Significantly, Dr Shun was the first recognised paediatric transplant surgeon in Australia and has since performed more than 500 transplants, giving many of these children the opportunity to grow up and live full lives.

What I love about being a transplant surgeon is we’re able to keep families together,” Dr Shun said.

“When there’s an ill child, not only is the child affected but the whole family. I can’t imagine the tragic loss of losing a child. We’re able to offer them a transplant, which offers them the ability to keep a loved one alive.

“It unites the family, I think. You see the kids grow up and develop into healthy people, and this is what has kept me going all these years.”

Of the patients Dr Shun has cared for, many have had the opportunity to pursue their dreams. Some have become parents. Some engineers. Some teachers. Others have even come back through our Network’s doors as staff.

Dr Shun is such a hero and is loved by so many. He saved the life of my son 12 years ago, and he now has a beautiful daughter. We would not have them if it wasn’t for a donor and for Dr Shun’s talented work,” Jackie, a former patient’s mother, said.

Dr Shun’s journey with the Network began in 1987 at Camperdown, where he joined the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children as a general surgeon.

A significant part of his role was to implement the paediatric liver transplant program at Royal Prince Alfred (RPA) and then in 1995, he went on to establish the Liver Transplant Clinic at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead (CHW).

Since then, Dr Shun has been instrumental in driving and developing this liver program, as well as the Australian National Liver Transplantation Unit at RPA.

Dr Shun has made many pioneering contributions to surgical interventions that have played a key role in enhancing understanding of paediatric surgery and transplantation, as well as helping to transform outcomes for transplant patients. It is an impact that is truly significant on both an Australian and global scale.

He began performing surgeries for children requiring a third transplant, most of which lasted longer than 24 hours. He adopted laparoscopic, or keyhole surgery, to make certain procedures less invasive for children.

And, together with the Unit, he pioneered new techniques to settle swelling and aid transplant tolerance.

Dr Shun was also the first to use a ping pong ball as a surgical aid, a stroke of ingenuity that went against all normal protocol but saved his patient’s life and was later featured in Grey’s Anatomy.

Notably, he also co-led the medical team who separated conjoined twins in India in 2012 with his fellow transplant surgeon, and dear friend, Dr Gordon Thomas.

This remarkable surgery involved separating the 11-month-olds’ fused livers and removing their hearts from a common membrane chamber.

“Dr Shun’s contributions to solid organ transplantation in children as well as to several general paediatric surgical conditions have been legendary,” Dr Thomas, said.

“He’s been a very creative and innovative surgeon and indeed, some of his innovations particularly in the management of children with short lengths of bowel have been game changers.

“Despite all these achievements, what is most remarkable about Dr Shun is his complete humility and lack of hubris – something that doesn’t always come naturally to surgeons.

We are going to miss Dr Shun as he’s been a role model to a lot of us. He leaves a big hole but also a legacy and model for the rest of us to emulate and follow.”

Dr Shun feels his career has been a privilege and takes comfort in the difference he has been able to make for the children and families he has cared for.

“We’re in such a privileged position to help these families stay together. It’s well worthwhile and certainly makes me feel great!" Dr Shun said.

While his retirement closes one chapter in the Network’s history, his legacy and achievements will continue shape SCHN’s story well into the future.

Congratulations Dr Shun on a truly exceptional career and the Network wishes you all the best for retirement.