Trauma fears over fire heroine

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 November, 2011, 12:00am


The parents of a teenage girl severely burned in a fire in Jordan earlier this month said yesterday they were worried that she faced further trauma after her discharge from hospital.

Eighteen-year-old Tang Ho-hei has been making good progress at the Prince of Wales Hospital.

She is being treated for injuries she suffered when she was trapped with an elderly couple as fire swept through their Parkes Street apartment block on November 3.

Tang helped the couple escape to the roof, where they were rescued, but the man was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital.

His wife and Tang were admitted with burns. The elderly woman is still in hospital, but her family have refused to discuss her condition.

Tang's mother, Kwan Fung-ling, said her daughter ate her first meal last week - a bowl of congee - and on Monday had further surgery.

'[The doctors] almost had to amputate her left leg as it was burned so badly, but they managed to save it,' said her father, Tang Chi-kwong.

He said that because Tang has a small build - she is just over 1.5 metres tall - she did not have enough healthy skin available for grafts.

About 50 per cent of Tang's skin suffered second-degree burns and doctors have performed several transplants, with more to come, Kwan said. She said her daughter had to suffer excruciating pain every day when nurses washed her wounds.

However, the parents are worried that the psychological damage to their daughter, who is receiving counselling from a psychologist, will be even greater than her physical suffering.

Kwan said: 'Just yesterday, the hospital was trying out the red alarm lights and bells and she was terrified. She kept thinking that she had to run because there was a fire.'

Both parents blame the building's lack of a fire alarm system and the cluttered staircase for the tragedy.

Kwan said the staircase was filled with debris and the smoke made it difficult for the girl and the two neighbours to escape.

The parents also said they do not know where they will stay when their daughter is discharged, believing Tang will be unable to cope with going back to their former home.

'I don't think she [Tang] will be able to sleep again if we move back into the old flat,' said her mother. 'I fear she might commit suicide. The memory is just too horrible.'

The family's total household income is slightly more than HK$20,000 a month, which disqualified them from applying to the government for public housing.

But they will struggle to rent a private flat as the bulk of their income must now pay for their daughter's rehabilitation and recovery. Kwan said their medical expenses are only about HK$100 per day and are covered by insurance.

But once Tang is out of hospital, they will have to pay for her therapy, which the mother estimated would take at least three to four years.

They have asked the Yau Tsim Mong District Office to help by arranging special public housing for them, and the request had been sent to the Social Welfare Department.

A spokesperson for the department confirmed the government 'is considering the family's request for housing assistance'.

She said the authority first needed to assess the case, taking into consideration Tang's medical condition as well as the family's finances.

Dr Daniel Lee Tin-chak, of the Society of Plastic and Reconstruction Surgeons, said surgery will be considered only after Tang's skin has healed completely. This would involve a series of operations over several years.

The extensive surgery would also require the availability of a full team of hospital staff and equipment.

The first operations would involve restoring the use of limbs and only later would plastic surgery be carried out to deal with the disfigurement from her burns. He added: 'The first step is to make sure her wounds are healed completely.'