Paralysed man sues SGH, surgeon who operated on him

SINGAPORE - A 53-year-old man who remained paralysed from the waist down because of a slipped disc, even after he had it operated on at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) in 2007, is suing the hospital and the orthopaedic surgeon who operated on him.

Mr Andrew Chua, now a part-time law firm assistant, arrived in court on Thursday in a wheelchair, and is seeking about $1 million for future loss of earnings and medical expenses, among other things. He used to be a manager in a law firm.

Mr Chua alleges that Dr Yue Wai Mun did not tell him his prognosis was poor and also that the surgeon was wrong to have carried out the surgery from the back and side instead of from the front.

His contention is the front approach would have given greater access to the part of the disc that was pressing on his spinal cord and had to be removed.

But Dr Yue, 46, and SGH contend that the senior consultant had explained the operation to the patient and had properly carried out the surgery.

On the morning of April 20, 2007, Mr Chua felt back pains and collapsed on his way to a doctor. He could not feel or move from the waist down.

The father of two was taken by ambulance to SGH, where a magnetic resonance imaging scan showed he had a slipped disc that was pressing on his spinal cord. Dr Yue performed a 21/2-hour operation that night to remove the compression on the spinal cord, but Mr Chua remained unable to move or feel his legs.

He decided to seek a second opinion and on May 8, transferred to Gleneagles Hospital, where he had a second operation. His condition did not improve.

A main point of contention in the case is what transpired when Dr Yue met Mr Chua at his SGH ward before the surgery. Mr Chua says Dr Yue did not tell him and his wife, who was also there, that the prognosis was poor, even with surgery.

He testified on Thursday he was under the impression that his condition was not "a catastrophe" or "beyond hope" as he had friends who had recovered well from slipped discs. He said Dr Yue did not tell him otherwise, and that he should also have presented both surgical approaches for him to decide.

Mr Chua said he was shocked to learn from Dr Yue, four days after his operation, that his case was rare, and the one other patient the surgeon had seen still needed crutches a year after surgery.

Dr Yue has a different recollection. He says Mr Chua's wife was not present and that he had explained the operation as well as told Mr Chua about the poor prognosis even with surgery.

Mr Chua's lawyer, Mr Ramasamy K. Chettiar, argued that Dr Yue's failure to tell his patient about the alternative approach deprived him of the right to make an informed choice, and resulted in him remaining a paraplegic.

However, Dr Yue, represented by Mr Lek Siang Pheng, will call two spine doctors as experts to testify that his surgical approach was appropriate.

SGH, represented by Ms Kuah Boon Theng, contends that Mr Chua's disability was not caused by any negligence by its medical team but because he was already severely injured when he arrived at the hospital. The hearing continues.

selinal@sph.com.sg


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