Patient sues NUH after losing unborn twins, legs and fingers

SINGAPORE - When Madam Shunmuga Kirthika was admitted to hospital with a fever, she was pregnant with twin boys. Within two days, she lost both of her unborn sons - along with her legs and all but one of her fingers.

Now, the 40-year-old is taking the hospital to court for alleged negligence. Madam Kirthika suffered three heart attacks after being admitted to intensive care at the National University Hospital (NUH).

She claims she did not receive adequate treatment after the first attack, which led to two more in the space of an hour.

The patient also alleges that her limbs showed signs of infection and poor circulation, but medics failed to respond promptly enough to prevent her legs and fingers from being amputated.

But the hospital is denying the claims, saying that she was already "very ill" when she was admitted in August 2009. Madam Kirthika was 20 weeks' pregnant when she arrived at the emergency department and was suffering from a fever, sore throat and running nose.

The Indian national was diagnosed with a life-threatening bacterial infection in the urinary tract, according to defence papers filed by the hospital's lawyer Kuah Boon Theng. This was complicated by multi-organ failure, including acute respiratory distress syndrome, severe septic shock and acute kidney injury.

"She was admitted directly to the intensive care unit (ICU)," a spokesman for the hospital said yesterday. "Given her very ill state, she was intubated for respiratory support while in the ICU.

"Despite the aggressive treatment, she collapsed three times within an hour while in the ICU. The medical team successfully resuscitated her on each of the three occasions."

However, she suffered complications from the illness, which caused her to miscarry and develop the gangrene that led to her legs and fingers being removed.

The hospital said in defence papers that the amputations were needed to bring her infection under control, and not doing so would have carried serious risks.

It added that the mortality rate for patients with her condition was at least 60 per cent. Madam Kirthika, who was an assistant nurse at Tan Tock Seng Hospital at the time of her illness, is seeking compensation for pain and suffering, medical costs, future expenses and loss of earnings, according to court papers.

Damages in High Court suits begin at $250,000. Her lawyer, Mr S. Palaniappan, is seeking more details of her treatment from the hospital in the run-up to the hearing.

NUH also wants her to provide details of her allegations so it can address them in a specific manner. A pre-trial conference is due next week.

Madam Kirthika, who is wheelchair-bound, has since returned to her hometown in Coimbatore, near Madras.

She is being looked after by her parents and in-laws.

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