Maid pours acid down baby's throat

SINGAPORE - Engineers Lim Boon Keong and Tan Poh Ling were both 27 and new parents of a three-month-old boy when their world fell apart on June 29, 1999.

They had left baby Samuel at the flat of Mr Lim's mother before going to work. The grandmother had gone out, but the couple's Indonesian maid Latifah was in the flat with him.

While she was in the kitchen and Samuel lay asleep in the living room, Sumiyem, 17, another Indonesian maid working with the family and jealous of Ms Latifah, poured sulphuric acid into Samuel's mouth. She wanted to get Ms Latifah, then 27, into trouble. Sumiyem was jailed for eight years in 2000.

Tears well up in Ms Tan's eyes as she recalls that day 13 years ago, and what happened afterwards. Samuel was taken to the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at the National University Hospital. He spent six months there.

Associate Professor Daniel Goh, head of the paediatric department, saw Samuel right after the incident. He recalled: "Because the airway and the gut were badly burnt by the acid, his life was definitely in danger. His prognosis then was very poor."

Samuel needed two major operations to enable him to breathe and be fed, his father said. Ms Tan learnt cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) skills and kept vigil by her baby's side round the clock after he returned home. She remembers waking up countless times during the night to feed and check on him.

"There were so many times when he choked on his phlegm or his airway got blocked, and we had to rush him to hospital in the middle of the night," she said.

"Once his whole face turned blue and I could not resuscitate him even after I performed CPR on him. Somehow, out of instinct, I used a pair of scissors and snipped off his tracheostomy tube. Then I put in a new one for him before rushing him to hospital."

A doctor told her that Samuel probably could not breathe as his tracheostomy tube could have been blocked, and she had done the right thing by cutting the tube.

Mr Lim and Ms Tan, now 41, went on to have two more children. Samuel's recovery, repeated hospital trips and his growing-up years have been a long journey for the couple. And they are always prepared for the unexpected.

Last year, Samuel had to sit his Chinese and science papers for the Primary School Leaving Examination in hospital, as he was suffering from an intestinal obstruction as a result of his tube feeding.

Ms Tan said: "We rushed him to hospital on a Sunday night after he complained of a severe pain in his stomach.

"The next morning, I informed the Ministry of Education of his condition and the ministry managed to arrange for him to take his exams at the hospital."

Mr Lim said: "After the accident, doctors told me that he is a very special boy. Every time I've needed to rush him to the hospital, I would be praying that he survives the ordeal and for his pain to be reduced. Samuel has shown that he has a very strong will to live."

Samuel knows what happened to him when he was a baby. Asked what he feels about the maid who assaulted him, he said: "I don't hate her."

joycel@sph.com.sg


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