GBS victim remains upbeat despite losing limbs to infection

Mr Tan Whee Boon had his hands and legs amputated after he was believed to have been infected by a strain of the Group B Streptococcus (GBS) bacteria.
Mr Tan Whee Boon had his hands and legs amputated after he was believed to have been infected by a strain of the Group B Streptococcus (GBS) bacteria.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER
Mr Tan's ordeal began after he ate raw Chinese-style fish from a porridge stall in Chinatown in July 2015. He and his family are now adjusting to life after the operation.
Mr Tan's ordeal began after he ate raw Chinese-style fish from a porridge stall in Chinatown in July 2015. He and his family are now adjusting to life after the operation.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

Man who had hands and feet amputated after eating raw fish and testing positive for GBS says he blames no one for his plight

This story was first published in The New Paper on Nov 28, 2015.

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - Sitting in his motorised wheelchair, Mr Tan Whee Boon's smile is radiant and his attitude jovial.

It is a stark contrast to the 50-year-old's outlook almost three months ago when he received devastating news - his hands and feet had to be amputated.

Back in August, when he spoke to The New Paper days before two operations to remove his extremities, the former technician said he had "no more future" because he could not imagine a life without them.

A meeting with national para-athlete Aishah Samad helped Mr Tan regain hope despite the thought of losing his hands and feet.

The 2003 SEA Games shooting bronze medallist visited Mr Tan in hospital in August after reading about his condition in a TNP report.

She, too, had lost her hands and feet after a bacterial infection while on a trip to China in 2012.

Meeting Ms Aishah allowed Mr Tan to connect with someone who had gone through a similar experience. It gave him much needed comfort and encouragement to persevere.


Mr Tan's wife, Madam Choong Siet Mei (left), helps with his prosthetic limbs. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

"I did think about suicide to be honest, but thinking of my family and friends made me think twice," said Mr Tan in Mandarin.

"There was no other way except to amputate, so even before I met Aishah, I had already told myself that all I could do was move forward."

Mr Tan's ordeal began in July when he was taken to hospital after feeling giddy and severe bouts of vomiting and diarrhoea.

This happened a few days after he ate a Chinese raw fish dish, or yusheng, at a Chinatown food centre.

Mr Tan was taken to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital where tests found three types of bacteria in his body, one of which was Group B Streptococcus (GBS).

Following a spike in reported GBS infections in July, the Ministry of Health confirmed an association between the consumption of yusheng-style raw fish dishes and a specific strain of GBS infection that appears to be aggressive.

The confirmation came in an official statement released yesterday. (See report below.)

TNP caught up with Mr Tan and his wife, Madam Choong Siet Mei, 47, in their three-room flat in Woodlands yesterday.

The couple, who have two children aged 14 and 15, sounded upbeat and hopeful while talking about how they were adjusting to life after Mr Tan was discharged from the hospital two weeks ago.

Said Mr Tan, who now moves around on a motorised wheelchair: "We just have to carry on living and do what we can do with life. The world will keep on spinning."

NO LAWSUIT

The family doesn't talk much about the tragedy because they would rather talk about "happier things".

He also said that it would be hard for him to find a job because the reality is that "it is hard to hire someone with no hands and feet".

I did think about suicide to be honest, but thinking of my family and friends made me think twice... We just have to carry on living and do what we can do with life.

- Mr Tan Whee Boon

For the couple, much has changed after the amputation, but they choose to adopt a positive outlook. Mr Tan has left his job as a technician and they get by on their savings and crowdsourced donations.

Mr Tan estimates that the amount should be enough to last them three to five years. The bulk of it will be kept for their children.

Mr Tan spends most days at home exercising to strengthen his core muscles, something he feels will help him become more independent.


Mr Tan has been fitted for prosthetic limbs, and he has learnt to do daily activities like eating and texting. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

With the aid of modified elastic bands that his wife sewed, Mr Tan is able to feed himself using a fork and spoon, and even send text messages using a stylus-pen.

Madam Choong, a housewife, is also always by his side as Mr Tan is unable to perform certain daily tasks like bathing and using the toilet.

"She's like my personal assistant," he joked.

She said: "I'm definitely more tired now. Previously, all I had to do was housework but now I have to take care of him too... But I do it because he's my husband."

When asked if they hold anyone responsible for their plight, Mr Tan said that they do not because "nobody wanted this to happen".

Madam Choong added: "Even if we sue someone, we can't win back his hands and feet. So there's no point."

Despite his disability, Mr Tan hopes his family and friends can continue to treat him as a "normal person" instead of taking "extra care" of him.

"They always offer to pick me up in their cars... But I tell them that I have my own car and it's a Mercedes," Mr Tan said, grinning and gesturing to his wheelchair.

FOOD STALLS TO STOP SELLING RAW FISH

Fans of yusheng-style raw fish may have to wait a while to get their fix at their usual porridge stalls.

With immediate effect, food stalls are to stop selling Chinese-style raw fish dishes until they can show that the fish is from suppliers that adhere to safe practices, said a joint statement yesterday from the National Environment Agency (NEA), the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA).

Safe practices for suppliers include adopting proper cold storage, hygienic handling practices, as well as segregation of fish intended for raw consumption from those intended for cooking.

Errant food operators can face fines and demerit points should they flout these guidelines, said an NEA spokesman.

The statement also confirmed an association between the consumption of such fish dishes and a specific strain of Group B Streptococcus (GBS) infection that appears to be aggressive.

NO KNOWN SOURCE YET

Since July, the authorities have been investigating the spike in local GBS infections.

There were 238 cases for the first half of this year compared to the annual average of 150 cases in the past four years.

The statement said that following the release of the first advisory in July to temporarily stop the sale of raw fish dishes using Asian Bighead Carp (Song fish) and Toman fish (Snakehead fish), which are linked with GBS infections, the number of cases has decreased to the usual baseline of less than five a week.

They also said that food handlers have been ruled out as the source of bacteria after taking the stool samples of 82 food handlers and fishmongers from various establishments.

Results showed that none of them carried the particular GBS strain.

However, the AVA and NEA tested fish samples from retail food outlets, wet markets, fresh produce sections of supermarkets and fishery ports and found that GBS was detected in 20.1 per cent of samples, with 4.1 per cent testing positive for the GBS strain associated with the infections.

Investigations have been unable to pinpoint the source of the contamination, but the authorities said it could have occurred anywhere along the food supply chain.

As a general precaution, vulnerable groups, especially young children, pregnant women, elderly people and people with chronic illness, should avoid the consumption of raw food.