SINGAPORE - A doctor alleged to have damaged a US Merchant Marine's hand during a liposuction treatment will face a disciplinary hearing after intervention by the Health Minister.
Rescue swimmer Michael Balensiefer, 36, was told he should not return to his job with the US Navy after damage to his hand and lower arm, which he claims was caused by Dr Kevin Teh at the Singapore Lipo, Body and Face Centre in 2009.
He complained about Dr Teh, a general practitioner who specialises in aesthetic treatments, to the Singapore Medical Council (SMC), whose complaints committee said it found no evidence of professional misconduct.
But it told him it would issue a letter of warning to the doctor.
Mr Balensiefer then appealed to the minister in December 2010. In May 2011, he was told that then Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan had directed the SMC to hold a disciplinary hearing on the case.
The American is also suing Dr Kevin Teh in the High Court.
He was in Singapore in March 2009 for knee treatment and while recuperating, he inquired about having liposuction on his body at the Singapore Lipo, Body and Face Centre in Novena.
He paid $1,926 for the treatment and told Dr Kevin Teh he was allergic to amoxicillin - a common antibiotic.
Mr Balensiefer - described by another doctor who treated him as "good looking, like (Hulk actor) Eric Bana" - claims Dr Teh negligently gave him the drug, then inappropriately tried to alleviate the allergy symptoms with another drug that caused the problem with his hand, despite the availability of safer alternatives.
He also claims Dr Teh failed to provide sufficient and timely post-operative care to his swollen and blistered right hand, and failed to give full disclosure of the drugs given.
This hampered treatment of his hand by doctors at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
Another of his claims states the doctor violated the prescribed seven-day cooling period mandated by the Ministry of Health (MOH) for liposuction treatment.
However, Dr Teh told The Straits Times that this rule does not apply to foreigners.
According to papers filed in the High Court, Dr Teh's two attempts to insert a needle into the back of Mr Balensiefer's right hand caused "moderate" pain but were "very bloody" with a "significant amount of blood both on his hand and on the floor".
When the doctor injected the contents of the syringe, the patient called out "hot, hot, very hot". Dr Teh stopped the injection and proceeded with the liposuction.
When the patient woke up six hours later he said he felt "extreme tightness in his right hand" which "looked very swollen".
The clinic staff told him everything had gone well and made an appointment for him to see the doctor the following day.
His hand was still swollen with two blisters at the injection sites. Dr Teh applied some gauze dressing and said it would get better.
But two days later, the swelling had extended almost up to his elbow. A week after the treatment, the pain became severe and his hand darkened.
He went to the emergency department at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, where two vascular surgeons warned that his thumb might have to be amputated.
Dr Chia Kok Hoong, then head of vascular surgery at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, found 15cm of blocked artery in his right forearm.
He operated and removed most of the blockage and saved his thumb from amputation but some damage remained.
Dr Chia told him to avoid cold exposure, which means he "may no longer return" to his swimming job.
He is also a chief radio electronics technician.
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