Man who fell ill eating raw fish out of coma

Mr Sim Tharn Chun was hospitalised a few days after eating raw fish porridge on Nov 15. Doctors said his condition likely stemmed from the Group B Streptococcus bacteria leading to meningitis.
Mr Sim Tharn Chun was hospitalised a few days after eating raw fish porridge on Nov 15. Doctors said his condition likely stemmed from the Group B Streptococcus bacteria leading to meningitis.PHOTO: LIANHE WANBAO

52-year-old recognises wife and can speak, but does not recall many other people and still drifts in and out of sleep

"He said to me 'I love you, lao por (wife), lucky you did not eat the raw fish too'," said Mrs Cathryn Sim, 43.

Her husband, 52-year-old Mr Sim Tharn Chun, spoke those tender words after waking up from a coma on Tuesday.

He fell critically ill a few days after he ate a meal of yusheng-style raw fish porridge from a Tiong Bahru market stall on Nov 15.

Doctors told Mrs Sim that his condition likely stemmed from the Group B Streptococcus (GBS) bacteria, leading to meningitis.

Now, two days since regaining consciousness, the country manager at industrial giant Honeywell is off the ventilator, but he still drifts in and out of sleep for most of the day.

He is slowly finding his strength as he tries to reach for things beside his hospital bed.

He remembers his wife of almost 20 years, but not many other people.

"He is slowly trying to remember. He recognised a few of his colleagues who visited him recently and thanked them," said Mrs Sim, a financial consultant.

On Wednesday, Mr Sim was moved to the general ward at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, where he has been warded since Nov 19.

It has been a roller-coaster ride of anxiety and relief for Mrs Sim, who has been at her husband's bedside every day since he was admitted.

Doctors had told her that Mr Sim was in critical condition and they did not seem confident he would wake from the coma.

But on Nov 25, he opened his eyes slightly. Soon after, however, he suffered a seizure, was put on anti-seizure drugs and sedation, and lapsed into unconsciousness again.

It was only six days later that he awoke again.

Mrs Sim said his recovery, thus far, is a miracle. But the road ahead is a long one.

"The doctors have told me that it will take time and that the recovery time is unpredictable," she said. "But I think this is the beginning of good things to come."

GBS is a common bacterium found in the gut and urinary tract of 15 to 30 per cent of adults, and does not usually cause disease in healthy individuals.

It is also not known to be transmitted through food and water. However, it may occasionally cause infections of the bloodstream, skin and soft tissues, joints, lungs and brain.

In August, the Ministry of Health said its investigations found a link between GBS infection and the eating of raw fish sold at food stalls.

It added that there had been a "significant downtrend" in the number of GBS cases since mid-July, after licensed shops and food stalls were advised to stop selling raw fish dishes using song fish and toman fish.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2015, with the headline 'Man who fell ill eating raw fish out of coma'. Print Edition | Subscribe