Student sues over hole left in heart

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 September, 2011, 12:00am


A public doctor mistakenly created a hole in the heart of a newborn baby two decades ago that was not fixed until 12 years later, a court was told yesterday.

Admitting the blunder for the first time, as the hearing on a HK$8 million compensation claim began, government lawyers said Dr Rita Sung Yn-tz, then a paediatric cardiologist at the Prince of Wales Hospital, had made a 'substandard' diagnosis out of negligence.

'The misdiagnosis that resulted in the heart operation was substandard and hence negligent,' lawyer Patrick Lam, representing the Secretary for Food and Health, said.

Fung Chun-man, 21, now an undergraduate student in engineering at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, is claiming up to HK$8 million in compensation for his suffering, loss of future income and medical expenses.

The medical blunder left Fung with a heart condition called atrial septal defect, a hole in the wall between the upper heart chambers.

Despite being in the prime of his youth, Fung had a weak body with physical fitness similar to that of a 50-year-old man, the court heard.

'The negligence that occurred 21 years ago has pervaded every aspect of Fung's and his family's life,' said Neal Clough, Fung's lawyer.

It had also dashed the young man's childhood dream of being a policeman. 'I still want very much to become a policeman. But I know I can't be one because I always feel unwell and I can only run for a very short time,' Fung said on the stand.

The court heard that within days of Fung's birth in July 1990, his parents were told that a hole had to be created in their son's heart to treat his congenital heart condition.

But soon after the 9mm hole was created, Sung - a former professor at Chinese University - realised it was a misdiagnosis. But she assured the parents that the hole would close naturally and would not need to be patched.

Fung was admitted to hospital for wheezing, skin rashes, abdominal pain and other conditions but the hospital still failed to discover the existence of the hole, despite regular follow-up checks.

The damage was not found until the then 12-year-old was asked to have an X-ray scan because his father, a construction worker, was suspected of having contracted pulmonary tuberculosis.

The hole, which had since grown to 3cm in circumference, was patched and closed in early 2003.

'He didn't get a new heart. He got a mended heart,' Clough said.

Dr David Hu, an expert witness for Fung, said the hole should have been closed in Fung's preschool days so as not to affect his development.

Giving evidence, Fung said he was worried about his career prospects.

In the second year of his chemical and environmental engineering bachelor's degree, Fung said he lagged behind his fellow classmates because of his physical limitations.

'I am not competitive enough,' Fung said. 'My classmates and I put in equal efforts but my results are not as good.'

He told the court that he had chest pain and difficulty breathing from time to time, making him unable to concentrate on his work. His heart would also beat quickly if he had a bumpy ride on a bus.