Life support ended for woman in coma after breast surgery

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 May, 2010, 12:00am

Doctors yesterday turned off the life-support system of a woman who fell into a coma last month following breast enlargement surgery, after they declared her brain dead.

But the woman's boyfriend questioned if it was premature to take such action and said it was because the government lacked the resources to continue giving her life support.

The 23-year-old woman, who was admitted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital after developing complications during breast enlargement surgery at a Jordan clinic, was declared brain dead on Tuesday, a hospital spokeswoman said.

She said after the woman was admitted she was diagnosed as lacking an oxygen supply to the brain and with fluid in the brain. Doctors had treated her but her condition had deteriorated.

On Tuesday, a doctor discovered that the blood vessels to the woman's brain were not delivering blood. Two specialists had confirmed that she was brain dead, the spokeswoman said. Mechanical ventilation for the woman was stopped at 2pm yesterday with consent from, and in the presence of, family members. The hospital referred the case to the coroner.

Brain death refers to irreversible coma, permanent loss of the ability to breathe or no blood flow in the brain. The spokeswoman said this view was accepted by the Hong Kong legal and medical profession although there was still a philosophical debate on whether brain death was real death.

Family members and friends of the woman visited the hospital yesterday.

Her boyfriend said: 'The problem is simple. The government does not have enough resources so we are not able to keep her alive for a few days more.'

The hospital spokeswoman said the process which led to a diagnosis of brain death was a careful one.

At least two doctors were required to confirm such a diagnosis after independent observation.

One of the doctors must be a specialist in intensive care, neurology or neurosurgery. 'When one is considered brain dead, it is inappropriate to continue giving life support,' she said. The hospital had arranged counselling for family members.

Obstetrician Dr Bernard Wong Kar-mau, who performed the breast enlargement surgery, said the woman's condition might have been induced by drugs. He said when he injected the correct amount of anaesthetics, the woman 'already had an acute response and was having cramps'.

'It was difficult to maintain her airway. We tried our best to give first aid.'