Her disability is for life

Born premature, she was already off to a bad start in life.

But things then became much worse for newborn Lai Yok Shan.

She lost her left forearm because doctors at Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital in Klang were negligent.

Part of it fell off after turning gangrenous and what remained had to be amputated.

Born two months premature on 23 Jul last year, Yok Shan was moved to an incubator and a drip was attached to her left hand.

She was also put on a ventilator.

About two weeks later, her condition became worse and it was decided that she needed to be given antibiotics.

A houseman, taking instructions over the phone from a doctor, inserted a needle, but instead of injecting the medicine into a vein, he sent it into a muscle...

Yok Shan's arm swelled up and the hospital called the parents.

Her mother had been discharged by then and her father, who was at work, rushed to the hospital.

He said he saw that the arm had been bandaged.

Over the next few days, the arm began turning black.

The baby was in the hospital incubator all along, and the parents could only see her from the outside.

A week later, frustrated about a lack of information and what he saw as inaction on the part of the hospital, the father went to the media and reports on the case appeared.

The Malaysian health ministry then stepped in, and a team of specialists was assigned to treat YokShan.

NEW DOCTORS

Then-Health Minister Chua Soi Lek told reporters: 'The normal doctors are out of this. A dedicated team has been set up to look after her.'

By then, it may already have been too late to save the baby's arm.

One specialist was quoted as saying: 'The fingers below the wrist are dry and brittle; they could shrivel and drop off.'

Still, the doctors waited for weeks before determining if any part of the arm had to be amputated.

Her father, Mr Lai Kian Khee, 24, told The New Paper in a mix of Mandarin and Malay: 'At the time, the consultant hand and micro-surgeon explained that they had to wait to allow for the natural progression of the tissues.'

He was told that sometimes, 'tissues naturally regenerate to a certain extent if there is no infection'.

On 1 Sep, the doctors decided to amputate Yok Shan's forearm. But when an orthopaedic surgeon lifted and turned the arm, it dropped off.

The operation was then carried out, and the baby was finally discharged in late September.

While the hospital has accepted full responsibility and apologised for the mistake, Mr Lai said the case is nowhere near closure.

He said: 'Till today, there are so many unanswered questions.'

And he added, the Malaysian authorities' earlier offer of an ex-gratia payment of RM60,000 ($26,000) as compensation 'has only added salt to the wound'.

Said the mechanic, who declined to reveal his income: 'At Yok Shan's one-month celebration dinner, we had managed to raise among ourselves more than RM40,000.'

As the offer fell short of their expectations, MrLim and his Thai wife, MsNutTuemthong, 27, filed a RM2million ($870,000) lawsuit against the Malaysian government, the hospital and twounnamed doctors - ahouseman and a consultant - in December.

Their lawyer, Democratic Action Party National Legal Bureau member Gobind Singh, told the Malaysian media that the hospital had yet to reveal the doctors' identities.

Mr Lai said that apart from seeking aggravated and exemplary damages, he was also seeking general damages, special damages, costs and any other relief deemed fit.

The first hearing is expected to take place at the end of this month.

MINISTER'S COMMENTS

Comments made by Dr Chua on the case caused a stir, especially on the Internet.

The New Straits Times reported on 2Dec that the then-health minister had said he did not understand why there was so much publicity.

He had called on the parents to be rational and added: 'If they are not satisfied with our service, then why come to our hospital? Whatever mistakes that happened, we have already admitted it publicly and apologised.'

But Mr Lai said he had not intended to draw so much attention and had only wanted to seek redress.

He said: 'They (the government) have failed to take into account the full impact that the bungled procedure has on Yok Shan's future. Our concern is over our daughter's future.'

He added: 'It breaks our hearts to see her struggling to cope. And this is a lifelong disability.'

When reporters visited Yok Shan at her grandparents' home recently, the 7-month-old was cooing and gurgling.

Mr Lai said: 'Despite the trauma after her birth, Yok Shan has brought so much love and happiness to our family.

'Generally a happy girl, she only acts up when her movements are restricted by her disability.'

SITTING PROBLEMS

Sitting, for example, which Yok Shan is starting to do, is difficult because of her missing arm.

Said Mr Lai: 'My wife has to be around constantly to help our girl.'

He is also worried about the obstacles Yok Shan may face when she starts to crawl.

Mr Lai still regrets sending his wife to a public hospital.

The couple had initially planned for the baby to be delivered at a private hospital.

Said Mr Lai: 'But because my wife was in severe pain and the baby came prematurely, we ended up rushing to the nearest hospital instead.'

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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