The X-Men: heroes who volunteered for the frontline

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 April, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 April, 2003, 12:00am

'We worried about being infected, but treating patients is what we were trained to do'

A team of radiologists at the Prince of Wales Hospital not only accepted the high-risk duty of working at the bedsides of Sars patients - they volunteered for it.

The four X-ray specialists offered their services to make sure patients received early diagnosis. They stepped forward last month at the peak of the outbreak at the hospital, which cut a swathe through staff as they battled the mystery infection.

The team was headed by Anil Ahuja, chairman and chief of service at the Chinese University's radiology department. His colleagues are Jeffrey Wong Ka-tak, Gregory Antonio, and radiographer Paul Chan Po-luk.

They overturned protocol which required them to write X-ray reports in their offices. Instead they worked by bedsides to speed up diagnosis.

The team said they did not deserve special credit, and that they were only doing their duty.

Professor Ahuja explained: 'X-rays play an important part in making diagnosis [for Sars] and in the progress of treatment ... We thought we should share the workload of our clinical colleagues who were already overloaded. We wanted to give them some moral support.

'Normally senior clinicians can read chest X-rays. But Sars is very new [and] our clinicians were under stress. As radiologists, we went down to look at their films to give them an extra pair of eyes.'

The new arrangement saved crucial time, allowing reports to be issued in one hour, instead of the usual half a day.

Dr Wong said that during the outbreak, the team set records by preparing reports on more than 80 patients a day.

They watched as more than 70 colleagues and medical students fell ill with Sars in the week after the outbreak began on March 10. For most of the month they worked more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week, in the infected wards. The team now works outside the Sars wards but still helps diagnose Sars patients.

Professor Ahuja said: 'We were worried. First you worried about yourself being infected, then you were worried about taking the virus back home to your families and to the community. But treating patients is was what we were trained to do.

'When you come to a crisis, you put your worry aside and just rely on your training and get on with it.'