Life-saving lesson ends with teen paralysed

Photo above: The Hougang Swimming Complex where the boy, who was 15 years old then, was found motionless and submerged.

He had wanted to learn how to save drowning victims.

But in a cruel twist three years ago, it was Boey Chun Hian who required saving.

Life-saving instructors found the teenager, submerged and motionless at Hougang Swimming Complex.

The near-drowning incident has left him bedridden and unable to speak or communicate with those around him.

He also has to be fed through tubes because he is unable to eat, and requires round-the-clock nursing care.

Now his father, Mr Boey Ghim Huat, is suing the Singapore Sports Council (SSC), which operates Hougang Swimming Complex, for negligence.

His lawyers, Mr Dominic Chan and Mr Goh Choon Wah from Characterist LLC, filed a writ of summons on May 17.

The statement of claim alleges that the accident or injury was caused by the SSC's breach in duty to ensure the safety of Chun Hian, who was a user of the swimming pool, and the SSC is liable for the alleged negligence by its lifeguards during the incident.

Mr Boey said in his claim that on the evening of June 20, 2009, Chun Hian, who was then 15, was taking a life-saving course conducted by Mr Ian Neo Meng Yong from Angel Lifesaver School.

Another two senior instructors from the same school, Mr Benjamin Tan Jun Jie and Mr Koh Jia Wei, were in the pool conducting their own life-saving courses.

The claim alleges that Mr Neo spotted Chun Hian motionless in the water. He lifted the teenager out, assisted by the other two instructors, who then performed cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on the youngster.

The statement of claim alleges that the lifeguards on duty that day, SSC employees Albert Law and Ong Kian Hwa, arrived later and assisted in administering CPR on Chun Hian, using an air-viva and an automated external defibrillator.

Chun Hian was then taken to Changi General Hospital, where he was warded for 44 days.

Mr Boey claims that his son suffered "severe and permanent personal injuries" arising from the incident.

He was diagnosed to have suffered severe hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy - inadequate supply of oxygen to the brain.

Mr Boey's claim is that the SSC "failed to station qualified lifeguards at the swimming pool to ensure the safety of users" and that its lifeguards stationed were "inexperienced and/or inadequately trained".

Safety rules

He also alleges, among other things, that the SSC had failed to "provide timely and effective use of rescue and resuscitation equipment", and did not have effective safety rules or a safe system for swimming and life-saving courses.

The statement alleges that the lifeguards, Mr Law and Mr Ong, were negligent, inattentive and slow in rescuing Chun Hian.

The lifeguards were also alleged to have refused and/or delayed the use of the automated external defibrillator.

Mr Boey's statement said Chun Hian is now unable to speak or eat and has to be fed through a tube.

He is bedridden because of severe motor weakness and spasticity of all four limbs, and has limited movement of his eyelids and eyes, with almost no ability to communicate with his family members.

He requires full-time nursing care.

Mr Boey is claiming general damages, interest, costs and other relief, along with special damages totalling S$193,908.95.

He also reserves the right to claim further special damages as they occur.

THE SSC is denying the allegations.

It filed its defence through M Rama Law Corporation on July 19, admitting only to being the operator of the Hougang Swimming Complex, and that lifeguards Albert Law and Ong Kian Hwa were its employees on June 20, 2009, the day of the incident.

It denied that the lifeguards were late in arriving at the scene or that they (the lifeguards) were negligent.

Instead, it alleged that Chun Hian caused or contributed to his own injuries by his own negligence.

It claimed that Chun Hian had failed to ensure he had sufficient rest and in good health before attending the life-saving training.

Among the SSC claims in its defence were that Chun Hian failed to alert his life-saving instructors of his illness or fatigue; failed to take a break when he knew or ought to have known that he may lose consciousness or suffer from fits or seizures; and failed to ensure his own personal safety.

The defence also claims that the instructors from Angel Lifesaver School had caused or contributed to his injuries by their negligence and reserves the right to add Angel Lifesaver School and/or the individual instructors as parties to its case.

Mr Boey's lawyers have filed a reply to SSC's defence statement.

A pre-trial conference in the High Court is due tomorrow.

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