Hole in throat for 4 years: Hospital replies

Mr U. Govindan (centre) having lunch with his family.
PHOTO: Hole in throat for 4 years: Hospital replies

We refer to the article ("Hole in throat for 4 years - why?"; Dec 14) and Mr M. Lukshumayeh's letter ("Why exclude family members?"; Sunday).

Mr U. Govindan's history of cancer since 2003 and his exposure to radiotherapy made him vulnerable to infection and poor wound healing.

In 2006, when our doctors had to remove his voice box to cure him of his second throat cancer, a rare and aggressive form, he developed a fistula, an unfortunate tear in the throat - a complication from the surgery (The hole in Mr Govindan's throat shown in the photograph on Dec 14 was not the fistula; it was an essential hole for Mr Govindan to breathe through after his voice box removal.)

This cancer has a high chance of recurrence and spreading in the first five years of recovery. There was, in fact, a scare when a new growth was found in Mr Govindan's throat during his recovery. Fortunately, it was benign.

Our doctors had exercised caution in managing Mr Govindan's recovery, in a manner that ensured he stayed cancer-free throughout. They had advised the family to consider reconstructive surgery to close the fistula only after the five-year period.

In a recent internal review by another team of specialists, the findings confirmed that this long period of care management was essential for Mr Govindan's safe recovery and health, given his history and known susceptibility.

The family had shared in the article that communication with the attending doctor had been poor and that family members had been excluded from the clinic sessions.

It is our hospital's policy to welcome family members to participate in such sessions, to better understand and care for the patients. Also, contrary to what the doctor purportedly communicated, our hospital's plastic surgery team is capable of undertaking reconstructive surgery to close fistulas.

We regret that the doctor may not have provided adequate assurance to the patient and his family on the care plan for his complex condition, and sincerely offer our apologies. Though the doctor has since left the hospital, we will reiterate to our staff the need to communicate clearly and empathetically on the care of all patients.

Today, Mr Govindan remains our patient for follow-up of his other medical conditions. We hope he and his family will accept our invitation to meet our hospital's clinical team to fully understand the management of care. We will remain in contact to address their queries.

Chong Yew Lam (Dr)

Acting Chairman

Medical Board Tan Tock Seng Hospital

This article was first published on December 24, 2014.
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