Man in coma since day surgery 3 years ago; wife sues Jurong Health for alleged negligence

A photo of Mr Gu, Madam Kong and their older son taken around six years ago when Mr Gu returned to China. Their two sons are now aged four and seven.
A photo of Mr Gu, Madam Kong and their older son taken around six years ago when Mr Gu returned to China. Their two sons are now aged four and seven. PHOTO: COURTESY OF KONG LING HUI

China national's wife sues Jurong Health and 3 doctors for alleged negligence in 2012 op

A patient admitted for day surgery to solve a nose disorder that leads to snoring has remained in a coma for more than three years, sparking a lawsuit for alleged negligence.

Madam Kong Ling Hui, 36, wife of the patient Gu Ziqiang, 37, is seeking damages from Jurong Health Services and three doctors for the July 2012 operation in Alexandra Hospital which left her husband in a permanent vegetative state.

Mr Gu, a China national who had worked here for three years as a bus driver, had sought treatment in 2012 for nasal obstruction at the hospital.

He was diagnosed to have a "deviated nasal septum with a caudal dislocation" - a deviation of the nasal bone that divides the two nostrils.

A common effect is understood to be snoring and nasal blockage.

He went for day surgery to improve his nasal airway and breathing. In the operating theatre, a tube was inserted into his windpipe to help in breathing and protect his airway before the surgery started.

But 20 minutes later, the oxygen level in Mr Gu's blood fell. Subsequently, an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) consultant re-checked the tube placement, among other things, according to court papers.

At issue in the case is whether the tube was appropriately positioned and if this affected his breathing.

Mr Gu remained in the ICU for more than a month and is now in a nursing home, said his wife.

Madam Kong, through lawyer N. Srinivasan from Hoh Law Corporation, said in court papers that he requires constant monitoring and treatment with artificial nutrition and hydration. She is seeking compensation for his upkeep, pain and suffering and loss of earnings, among other things.

Rodyk & Davidson lawyers led by Mr Lek Siang Pheng are representing the doctors while Ms Kuah Boon Theng is defending the hospital.

A spokesman for Jurong Health Services said: "We are unable to comment at this point in time as the matter is now before the court.

"We have been in touch with Mr Gu's family and provided them with support in various ways, including facilitating their visits to Singapore to see Mr Gu," he added.

A High Court pre-trial conference is due early next month. High Court claims start at $250,000.

The mishap occurred after Mr Gu bought a condominium unit in Chengdu, capital of China's Sichuan province, said Madam Kong.

"It was a new beginning for us, but this came as a strike of lightning," she told The Straits Times over the phone from Chengdu.

With the family's sole breadwinner now helpless, she had to work to support her family. She worked in a teahouse after a trip here three years ago to see her husband. She came here again last year with her mother-in-law.

Now, she sells clothing at a store in Chengdu, making around 2,000 yuan (S$420) a month.

"I can barely foot the bill for my sons' daily expenses, let alone give my parents and in-laws allowances and help in medical expenses," said Madam Kong, who lives alone in the new home while her sons, aged four and seven, live with her parents.

"My husband's greatest wish was for our children to have a warm home," she said. "I borrowed money from friends and relatives to pay for the house. I can't lose the one thing that he left for us."

Her younger son was six months old when the mishap happened and had seen his father just once.

"'Daddy is being naughty, He wouldn't wake up,' he'd say. It sounds simple when he says that, but I can tell his elder brother gets upset when he hears it," she said.

"Now, (her older son) wouldn't talk if we brought up his father's condition. He would just sit there and the tears would fall."

Correction note: An earlier version of this story stated that the Alexandra Hospital was closed. It actually reopened in August 2015 after its first phase of renovations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2016, with the headline 'Man in coma since day surgery more than 3 years ago'. Print Edition | Subscribe