NSF did not report last asthma attack

Pte Lee died in April last year from acute allergic reaction due to inhalation of zinc chloride fumes from smoke grenades.
Pte Lee died in April last year from acute allergic reaction due to inhalation of zinc chloride fumes from smoke grenades.FILE PHOTO: MINDEF

Last attack was 3 months before his pre-enlistment check-up, not 3 years

A full-time national serviceman who died after having breathing difficulties during training gave inaccurate information about his asthma attacks during a pre-enlistment check-up.

Private Dominique Sarron Lee had declared during the check-up in 2011 that his last asthma attack was more than three years ago, a coroner's inquiry into his death heard yesterday.

The 21-year-old also stated that he was not on any steroid medications, reliever medication or active follow-up. But a medical report from a general practitioner at Street 11 Clinic in Tampines who treated him showed that he last suffered an attack on Oct 25, 2010.

He did not mention this to Dr Tan Ming Wei, 28, who examined him on Jan 4, 2011 before his enlistment. Dr Tan, then with the SAF Medical Classification Centre, said he noted that Pte Lee had said "yes" in the check box under asthma/lung disease.

He was testifying at the inquiry into the death of Pte Lee, which resumed yesterday after it commenced in April this year.

Pte Lee died on April 17 last year from acute allergic reaction due to inhalation of zinc chloride fumes from smoke grenades used in a training exercise at Murai Urban Training Facility.

Responding to a question by State Counsel Yang Ziliang, who was assisting the court in the inquiry, Dr Tan said if Pte Lee had a recent attack, he would find out more about his condition from the doctor who treated him before grading him. The NSF's overall physical employment status - which is a measure of one's medical fitness - was "B" which means he was combat-fit.

Jurong police division's Staff Sergeant Lee Sze Chiat, the investigation officer of the case, said in his investigation report that the April 17 exercise involved the taking over of four buildings within the training facility in Lim Chu Kang.

The platoon commander threw a few smoke grenades around the third building to provide cover for the platoon's movement to the third building. Pte Lee was at the ground floor room of the third building with his mates when he had difficulty breathing.

Senior consultant forensic pathologist Wee Keng Poh, who performed the autopsy, said in a statement dated Monday that an acute allergic reaction was likely to be caused by zinc chloride fumes as it was found in the inner lining of Pte Lee's trachea. He said Pte Lee's asthmatic condition made him more predisposed to having an allergic reaction to other triggers like prawns or peanuts. "I am not aware of any medical study on the effects of zinc chloride on asthmatics," he said.

When the inquiry began in April, combat medic Goh Khen Hui, 22, who first attended to Pte Lee, testified that he was not trained to deal with asthma attacks. But he has now clarified in a statement that medics are trained in basic cardiac arrest support and in dealing with asthma. Explaining the mistake, he said he was "too nervous" when he testified earlier.

The hearing continues on Aug 19.

elena@sph.com.sg