Decision to remove boy's oxygen tube 'not wrong'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 4:28am

Removing the breathing tube from a teenage patient shortly after he had undergone neck surgery was not the wrong decision, a medical expert told an inquest into the boy's death yesterday.

But Chinese University chair professor and chief of the division of neurosurgery at Prince of Wales Hospital, Dr Poon Wai-sang, said if he had operated on 13-year-old Medwin Cheung Yui-ting, he would not have removed the tube right away.

Cheung underwent occipital-cervical fusion surgery to fix two misaligned neck bones at Tuen Mun Hospital on August 4, 2011, and died there on August 22.

The Coroner's Court earlier heard that everything had gone well until Cheung woke up after the operation. As he was awake, doctors in the recovery ward removed his oxygen tube, but only one or two minutes later he started having breathing difficulties.

"When we look back, it [the situation] would have been better if the tube were not removed," Poon said. But he emphasised that the doctors had examined Cheung and removing the tube was a professional decision.

Cheung's heart stopped 35 minutes after the tube's removal, and the doctors attempted to perform an emergency tracheotomy to provide him with oxygen. A tracheotomy is a procedure in which an opening is made in the neck, to allow a patient to breathe without using the nose or mouth.

Poon, however, found it disappointing that it took the medical team more than 30 minutes to complete the emergency procedure, which theoretically should have taken 15 minutes.

Dr Wong Sui-to, who had operated on Cheung, began carrying out the emergency tracheotomy. He admitted that he had never done the procedure before, and it was difficult for him.

Paediatric neurosurgery professor Dachling Pang, from the University of California, who also operated on Cheung, helped construct the surgical airway.

Poon said it was rare for surgeons to perform tracheotomies, and he had only performed two.

The inquest continues on May 12 before Coroner Philip Wong Wai-kuen and a jury.