Cancer man Wang Keng-kao's death was 'an accident': coroner

But the reason cancer patient inhaled a piece of gauze is open to possibilities, coroner rules

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2013, 3:47am

The death of an old man whose breathing hole was mistakenly covered with gauze was an accident, an inquest ruled yesterday.

But the verdict on Wang Keng-kao's 2011 death left his family angry and disappointed.

They say the inquest failed to clear the doubts surrounding how the 73-year-old cancer patient died.

"The ruling is in favour of the hospitals," said the man's son, Brian Wang Ping-wan, outside court yesterday. "[The judge] did not address [the accident] fully."

His father died in Kowloon Hospital on November 24, 2011, after he was transferred from Queen Elizabeth Hospital following throat surgery in June.

The old man had had a hole created in his neck to allow him to breathe after the operation.

But pathologist Dr Cheuk Wah told the Coroner's Court last week that a pocket tissue-sized piece of gauze had blocked Wang's upper airway, causing the old man's death.

Coroner Michael Chan Pik-kiu yesterday ruled that it was an accident that the gauze got into Wang's windpipe and blocked his bronchi.

Brian Wang had earlier told the inquest that he had found the breathing hole covered by gauze which was secured with tape when he visited his father in hospital on November 6 and 13.

Chinese University medical professor Alexander Vlantis said on Monday that Wang could have inhaled the piece of gauze in a laboured effort to draw breath, as he could not breathe through the mucus-soaked gauze.

Vlantis said the move to cover the opening with gauze was "completely incorrect".

He said it was "entirely feasible" that staff at the hospitals had mistakenly assumed that the old man had had "a thracheostomy [a wound], and not a tracheal stoma [an artificial opening created by surgery]".

But coroner Chan said the cause of Wang's inhalation of the gauze was also open to other possibilities.

Outside court yesterday, Wang's wife, Lau Lai-ling, accused the Kowloon Hospital medical staff of covering up the incident.

She said the staff threw a piece of gauze - allegedly the last one used by the patient before he died - into a bin 10 metres away from his ward.

Brian Wang said his family would take further legal action, including seeking compensation from the Hospital Authority.

A Kowloon Central Cluster spokesman said disciplinary action had been taken on the staff members concerned according to the cluster's human resources procedures.

He said the cluster had also taken immediate improvement measures after the accident, such as enhancing staff training to distinguish a permanent opening from a temporary one.