HK$150,000 payout offered for heart blunder

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2011, 12:00am


The government is willing to pay only HK$150,000 in damages - not HK$8 million - to a patient who had a hole in his heart until he was 12 because of a blunder by a public doctor when he was a newborn baby, his lawyers say.

University student Fung Chun-man, now 21, is suing the government for his suffering, loss of future income and medical expenses arising from the mistake in 1990 that left him in physical health comparable to that of a 50-year-old.

The Court of First Instance yesterday heard evidence from Fung on the second day of the trial. The government on Monday admitted that Dr Rita Sung Yn-tz, then a paediatric cardiologist at the Prince of Wales Hospital, had made a 'substandard' diagnosis out of negligence but disputed the amount of compensation demanded by the student.

The court heard that within days of Fung's birth, he had a 9mm hole erroneously created in his heart to treat what was then diagnosed as a congenital heart condition. His parents were told that the hole would close naturally. Despite regular check-ups, a 3cm hole was only discovered when Fung reached age 12. Surgeons closed the hole in 2003.

Fung told the court yesterday that he continued to suffer from chest pain, dizziness and shortness of breath after the corrective operation.

But Patrick Lim, representing the Secretary for Food and Health, suggested that Fung only told doctors of the symptoms to build his case after he secured legal aid to pursue a claim.

Lim cited school reports that showed Fung was an outstanding sportsman. The court heard that in 2005, Fung, at 14, was a javelin thrower on the school team. He was also part of a winning relay team at an indoor rowing competition that year.

Lim said there was no mention of chest pain or other symptoms in summaries of eight consultations Fung had between 2003 and 2005.

But Fung said he was surprised by his doctor's accounts.

'This is a great surprise,' Fung said. 'I do not understand why the doctor wrote that. I told the doctor that I had chest pain at every consultation.'

Under cross-examination, Lim said: 'I put to you that before you had the heart surgery, you did not have chest pain ... Your situation was the same after surgery. You don't have any chest pain.'

But Fung disagreed. He said Dr Cheung Yiu-fai, a professor who has followed his case since 2003, told his father that he suffered from a backflow of blood because of a problem with his aortic valves.

'He told me that 'something which should not have happened had happened. Take it easy, never mind',' Fung said.

He said the doctor told him to study hard and find a white-collar job.

Mr Justice Mohan Bharwaney asked lawyers to instruct their expert witnesses to prepare a report on how one's life expectancy would be affected by a hole in the heart and a repaired hole.

Fung told the court he felt embarrassed by a prominent scar on his chest from the surgery and had abstained from swimming because of it.