Wrongly secured wheelchair may have caused fatal fall

A 64-year-old wheelchair user tumbled down a small flight of steps outside his flat on the day he was to have gone on a holiday with his family to Penang, a coroner's court heard yesterday.

Mr Tan Yik Fay's new wheelchair became separated from a device called a Stair Aid - which is used to bring him down a flight of stairs together with his wheelchair - next to his first-storey flat in Hougang Avenue 7 on Dec 20 last year.

He had been using a wheelchair for some seven years after a stroke which left him paralysed on the left side of his body. He had had falls twice before, in 2011 and 2014.

He injured his head in the fall and died the next day.

At yesterday's inquest into his death, the court heard that his wife had recently got him a new wheelchair.

On the day of his fall, Mr Tan's son had secured the wheelchair to the Stair Aid device but it somehow became detached as Mr Tan was going down a flight of stairs, causing him to fall forward.

But despite the fall, Mr Tan could still talk after the incident. At Changi General Hospital, he was found to have broken his right little finger.

But while waiting for his wife to see a doctor for a toe injury she had suffered while trying to help Mr Tan up after his fall, he began to appear to be progressively drowsy.

He was later found to be unresponsive, with a pupil dilated and fixed. A computed tomography scan showed that he had traumatic brain injury.

On further investigation, Mr Tan's son, who had attached the wheelchair to the device, conceded that he might not have secured it correctly or tightly to the Stair Aid. His failure to do so may have led to the detachment of the device, leading to Mr Tan's fall.

The court heard that the son had lost the detailed instruction manual which came with the device.

In his findings, State Coroner Marvin Bay said that investigations had not uncovered any mechanical fault in the Stair Aid.

He added that as Mr Tan's son had difficulty attaching the mounting points to the new wheelchair, he improvised by using certain attachments on a different part of the wheelchair. This led to Mr Tan's fall.

"In these circumstances, Mr Tan's demise from the head injury sustained in his fall with his wheelchair is an unfortunate misadventure,'' he said.

He said it would be prudent for caregivers to perform a test-run, with a simulated load, when a new wheelchair is in use.

"A judiciously performed 'dry run' can ensure that the device is properly assembled, secured, and functional, before undertaking the carriage of a live patient,'' he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2017, with the headline 'Wrongly secured wheelchair may have caused fatal fall'. Print Edition | Subscribe