Family seek HK$30m for girl left disabled by operation

Queen Mary Hospital accused of negligence for allowing junior doctor to insert tube in lung

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 November, 2012, 3:31am

A family is claiming more than HK$30 million in compensation after their daughter was left quadriplegic and severely mentally retarded by a medical procedure that went wrong.

Yuen Hiu-tung, now 12, suffered brain damage after treatment at Queen Mary Hospital in October 2001, when she was about 10 months old. She was admitted to hospital with breathing difficulties and acute bronchiolitis - inflammation of the smallest air passage of the lung - the Court of First Instance heard.

The brain damage occurred, her lawyers said, when Dr Hannah Tsang improperly carried out a procedure involving the insertion of tubes into the lung.

The girl was born immature with congenital abnormalities including an atrophied right lung and heart disease.

Michael Ozorio SC, for Hiu-tung, said her lung collapsed in a condition called pneumothorax because Tsang was "too junior and inexperienced" to perform the procedure, called intubation.

He said Tsang applied too much force while pushing air into the lung by squeezing a bag-like apparatus to maintain her ventilation manually before the girl could be connected to a breathing machine. Her lung collapse triggered two heart attacks, which caused her brain damage, the court heard. At one point Hiu-tung's condition was so serious that she needed resuscitation.

Ozorio said: "It's not like a balloon that's suddenly pumped up and bust. Rather, it is a continual process."

Citing a medical expert, Ozorio said it was negligence on the part of the hospital because it failed to arrange for a more senior doctor to carry out the procedure. He said that because of Hiu-tung's pre-existing lung disease, what would normally be a simple procedure became a difficult task and required an experienced doctor to perform.

Hiu-tung's lawyers suggest that the girl can live for another 19 to 29 years; the Hospital Authority put the estimate at nine years, the court heard. Hiu-tung could barely talk in court and required constant attention.

Her father died of cancer in 2010, not long after he filed a legal action against the Hospital Authority. Hiu-tung now lives with and is cared for by her grandmother, who is in her early seventies. Her mainland mother, who divorced her late father, returned to Hong Kong only last year, four years after Hiu-tung's father brought the girl back to Hong Kong, where she was born.

The Hospital Authority is expected to argue that the doctors were not negligent because pneumothorax is a known complication arising from intubation.

Hiu-tung's is the first case in which compensation, if any, will be calculated under a new formula which is set to be reviewed in court, taking into account inflation and investment return.

The case continues before Mr Justice Mohan Bharwaney.