When the 'flu' nearly cost him his life

PHOTO: When the 'flu' nearly cost him his life

SINGAPORE - Mr Tan Ban Gun, 59, feels like a new man - and not just because he has a new trim figure.

Last month, the businessman and father of three almost died after coming down with what he thought was just the "flu".

Mr Tan contracted pneumonia, which caused his lungs to almost completely fill up with fluid.

Efforts to help him breathe through a ventilator only made matters worse.

His son, Mr Tan Eng Chin, 32, a materials engineer working in Singapore, said a decision was made to send his father from Johor Baru in Malaysia to Gleneagles Hospital for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (Ecmo) support.

"At that point, he had only 13 per cent of his lung capacity left. My family members said if the condition persisted, we would surely lose him. We took the risk to get him to Singapore, so he would have a chance to survive," he said.

Part of the problem was that the ventilator was exerting a positive pressure on the lungs to force air in, which increased the inflammatory response, said Dr Su Jang Wen, a thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon at Gleneagles Medical Centre, who hooked up Mr Tan to the Ecmo.

Eventually, all the air sacs in the lungs would have filled with water.

Mr Tan needed the machine for five days. It drew blood from him, adding oxygen and removing carbon dioxide before it pumped it back. This allowed his lungs to rest and recover.

He was in intensive care for five days and spent another 16 days in other wards.

"I lost 10kg. I feel like a new man. I now weigh 80kg. I used to have borderline high blood pressure, but now it is normal," Mr Tan told Mind Your Body at Dr Su's clinic in Gleneagles Medical Centre when he came for a check-up in late June.

No one is more relieved than his wife, Madam Chong Sek Moy, 57. "I fainted in the JB hospital when I saw him getting worse. I never imagined that his condition would deteriorate so quickly," she said.

Tests showed that Mr Tan's condition was caused by the H1N1 flu virus. The hospital stay and treatment cost $130,000.

Studies from different countries, including Singapore, during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, showed that the survival of patients on Ecmo was between 50 per cent and 80 per cent. We had nine cases at the National Heart Centre Singapore and six survived," said Dr Su.

"What's the use of money if I lose my life? I have been given a second lease of life. Now, I can see my sons get married," Mr Tan said.

This article was first published on June 26, 2014.
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