My family wouldn’t let me die

The doctors had advised them to accept that she was brain dead and to pull the plug on the life-support system, but Ms Suzanne Chin's loved ones could not give up.

The Singaporean lawyer, who is in her late 40s, had fallen into a coma and had been declared brain dead by doctors in Hong Kong.

In an e-mail to The New Paper on Sunday, her brother, Dr Alan Chin, says: "I was present… when the neurologist conducted a physical examination of Suzanne. She certainly had all the physical signs of brain stem death."

Dr Chin, 54, says: "And as a medical doctor, I am unable to fault their diagnosis of brain stem death based on these signs. An EEG (electroencephalogram) done showed the activity pattern of massive brain damage."

But four days after her collapse, Ms Chin regained consciousness. Within a week, she was up and able to walk.

It has been four years since the incident, yet both Ms Chin and Dr Chin say they have found no medical explanation for her miraculous recovery.

Says Dr Chin: "I have researched it and have not come across any medically documented case like Suzanne's.

"Certainly medical science cannot explain what happened to her.

"If anything, it will have to be classified as an unexplainable medical phenomena, or in layman's term a miracle," he says.

Her case came into the spotlight after Chief Justice (CJ) Sundaresh Menon used her extraordinary story in his address, titled Euthanasia: A matter of life or death?, to the Singapore Medical Association at their annual lecture.

Science, said CJ Menon, did not have all the answers, and that it was for Parliament, and not the courts, to decide if euthanasia or assisted suicide should be allowed in Singapore.

Since then, netizens have cottoned on to her story, drawing attention to testimonies by the Chin siblings on a website, Healing Rooms Singapore, which charts stories of personal recovery and faith.

The knowledge that the doctors were so close to pulling the plug hurts her, says Ms Chin in an e-mail interview with The New Paper on Sunday.

"It pains me to think about what my husband, my children, my family and friends went through," she says.

She recalls the fateful day: "That morning was no different from any other. It was the usual scramble to get the kids on the school bus and then I was off to take my standard 40-minute morning hike with my dog on the trails near our home.

"Just a few minutes into my walk and for no reason that I can recall, I just decided to cut the walk short, circle around and head for home - I was in no pain and felt no alarm or trepidation."

When she got home, her husband remarked that she looked pale, and helped her onto the bed before calling for an ambulance. That was Ms Chin's last memory before she slipped into a coma.

She was rushed in an ambulance to Canossa Hospital, with her husband John Alabaster, who is also in his late 40s, following closely behind in his car.

The couple have a daughter, 16, and a son, 12.

At the hospital, they checked the unconscious woman for a pulse and found that her heart had stopped.

The entire medical staff on duty at the emergency unit tried to revive Ms Chin.

After two hours and large doses of dopamine and adrenaline, doctors finally stabilised her heart. She was placed in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where, despite further treatment, doctors found no brain stem activity. She was then declared brain dead.

Given the grim prognosis, her husband contacted other family members and they flew to Hong Kong to be by her side.

Her Hong Kong cardiologist diagnosed that a valve in a main blood vessel had prolapsed (slipped forward or down), leading to her heart stopping, and hence her collapse.
 When her condition did not improve, the respiratory physician advised Mr Alabaster to consider switching off the ventilator.

Says Dr Chin: "The physician said there was no hope of recovery. She added there were no cases of patients recovering from brain stem death.

"That evening, Suzanne looked dead. There was also a smell of death over her."

Amazingly, there were signs of life the following morning when Mr Alabaster reported that she had opened her eyes several times.

Yet when she was reassessed by a neurologist, she did not respond when he called her name.

Later, when Dr Chin asked his sister to move her hand, she moved her fingers in response. But doctors dismissed the movement as reflex actions and cautioned the family against getting their hopes up.

Yet, on Day 3, Ms Chin was able to nod her head when her husband asked her to.

And in the afternoon on the fourth day after her collapse, she regained consciousness and was taken off life support. She was up and about the following morning.

Dr Chin adds: "She was even able to take a shower."

Ms Chin recalls how she woke up to her husband's love and reassuring presence: "He explained to me slowly what had happened and why I was in the hospital. He took charge of it all and was my tower of strength.…

"Everyone seemed overjoyed and extremely relieved. The mood was celebratory. My friends, who had been camping out in the visitors' waiting room taking turns to visit me while I was in the ICU, kept telling me what a fright I had given everyone."

She acknowledges it had been a hard road to walk: "It was a tremendously difficult time for all of them. Yet, when faced with such a difficult decision, they chose to fight for me.

"They never gave up on me in what seemed like a hopeless situation. They stood by me and fought for my life, literally. "Without their faith, I wouldn't even be here today telling this story."

She believes that "the power of prayer made that difference".

"At the time, my husband, my children, my family, friends and even many who did not know me personally, prayed for me… so many believed and had faith in the 'impossible' and I am alive because of that."

That fateful day had started out normally, recounts Ms Chin, who was living in Hong Kong then. She had no history of health issues and walked regularly as a form of exercise.

"At the time, I still had not fully understood the full extent of what had happened to me but gradually, it became apparent to me how close I had come to death."

Following her experience, Ms Chin says that she believes "life is a gift given to us by God".

"All life that is all stages of life whether pre-birth or in much later years, whether vibrant or threatened with illness, is precious. We as human beings however balanced, lucid and cogent our argument or motive have no right to take life away even if that judgment is well intentioned and backed by legal evaluation.

Ms Chin, who moved back to Singapore in 2009 (a decision she had made before the episode), says: "I cannot say that I am a changed person. I am still the same person that I was but with a much more deep-rooted faith.

"After this experience, I know now that things that may appear impossible are sometimes surmountable with faith. 

"Not one doctor who treated me while in hospital or subsequently any specialist that I have seen since, both in Hong Kong or later in Singapore has been able to explain the speed of my recovery or that I was able to recover from the situation at all.

"There is no doubt that I had suffered massive brain damage and was brain dead. If one looks at the situation rationally and logically, there is no explanation. I truly believe that this was a miracle."

"Not one doctor who treated me..has been able to explain the speed of my recovery or that I was able to recover from the situation at all... this was a miracle." - Ms Chin

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