Natural causes verdict in asthma case

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 July, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 July, 2004, 12:00am

Coroner says Chinese medicine practitioner should have called for emergency help sooner

A coroner ruled yesterday that a seven-year-old boy who lost consciousness after an asthma attack for more than an hour before he was taken to hospital died of natural causes.

Coroner Peter White said that when Wong Yui-hon's condition deteriorated, Chinese medical practitioner Lam Yuk-ha, who was treating him at the time, should have advised his parents to call for emergency help. Instead, Ms Lam continued treating the boy for an hour before his mother, Wong Leung Wing-kan, a senior health reporter, finally called 999.

'When an inadequate supply of oxygen is indicated, the patients should immediately be referred to the emergency department of the hospital,' Mr White said.

'But the [mother's] suggestion was not well received by Ms Lam, who had previously counselled the parents against using western treatment in conjunction with Chinese medicine.'

Though Mr White said it was impossible to know if earlier medical treatment would have saved Yui-hon's life, previous records showed that he reacted well to the western medicine Ventolin. The boy was previously admitted to hospital in December 2002 after collapsing at school during an asthma attack.

The court heard Yui-hon suffered shortness of breath on January 4 last year and fainted at 4pm.

Wong, a chief reporter for the Hong Kong Economic Times' health page, called Ms Lam, who arrived soon after and gave him a herbal bath and massage.

The boy was drifting in and out of consciousness as his condition deteriorated.

His mother suggested calling an ambulance but Ms Lam continued the treatment.

When Yui-hon still failed to regain consciousness, an ambulance was finally called at 5.45pm, but medics found no breath or pulse when they arrived at 5.50pm. Yui-hon was certified dead at 6.40pm at Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital, Chai Wan.

'The deceased had limited contact with western medicine because his parents preferred traditional medicine,' the coroner said.

Ms Lam told the inquest earlier that she did not remember where she had put Yui-hon's medical records because she had moved office many times.

Mr White said it was a 'serious omission on her part'. 'There's no credible evidence that she kept a medical record of the treatment she provided,' he said.

He recommended that the Chinese Medicine Council - a statutory body regulating Chinese medicine practitioners and Chinese medicines - make keeping medical records of patients compulsory for all listed and registered practitioners in its code of practice.

'Keeping a thorough medical record is vital for Chinese as well as for western medicine,' Mr White said.