Dead woman had as much bacteria in blood as dying ‘Aids patients’, court hears in Hong Kong beauty centre therapy case

She had died of blood poisoning after cancer procedure; owner and staff face manslaughter trial

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 August, 2017, 7:56pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 August, 2017, 10:44pm

A prominent Hong Kong microbiologist told a High Court jury on Wednesday that a woman who had died after treatment at a beauty centre was found to have as much bacteria in her blood as that of “terminally ill Aids patients”.

Yuen Kwok-yung, chief of service in microbiology at the University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital, said tests conducted on Chan Yuen-lam found 100,000 bacteria in every millilitre of her blood. The levels were so high that they could be detected even before the bacteria was cultured.

Asked if he had ever encountered such an alarming presence of bacteria in blood samples, Yuen told the jury: “I have only seen it in terminally ill Aids patients.”

Healthy woman died due to ‘unproven and wholly unnecessary’ cancer treatment from private clinic, court hears

Yuen, best known for his role in combating the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) when the epidemic hit Hong Kong in 2003, was called to the witness box in a manslaughter trial on Wednesday to testify as an expert.

Chan, 46, died on October 10, 2012, a week after she suffered from septicaemia from a cytokine-induced killer cells (CIK) treatment at a DR Group centre in Causeway Bay.

The treatment required blood to be taken from Chan, processed to enhance white blood cells, and then reintroduced into her body.

The court heard that the infused blood was tainted with mycobacterium abscessus, a strain that could withstand harsh environments.

DR Group owner Dr Stephen Chow Heung-wing, employee Dr Mak Wan-ling – who administered the procedure – and laboratory technician Chan Kwun-chung – who processed Chan’s blood – are each pleading not guilty to manslaughter by gross negligence.

The group had learned the treatment from a Guangzhou hospital and introduced it in Hong Kong as a health product, targeting customers looking for an immunity boost, the court heard.

Prosecutors argued that the procedure was too experimental even for cancer patients, let alone healthy people. They questioned its benefits and possible side effects.

Two other women, Wong Fung-kwan and Wong Ching-bor, also suffered from blood infection after receiving the CIK treatment at the centre on the same day. The latter had to have her legs and four fingers amputated.

Horrific details of a Hong Kong beauty clinic treatment gone fatally wrong

Yuen, who visited the three women soon after they were taken to hospitals, recalled Chan’s condition being the most critical. He said bacteria was not only found in her blood, but also in other samples including her urine, brain fluid and secretions.

Yuen recalled that she was intubated while he was still able to speak to the two Wongs.

He said a visit to the Asia-Pacific Stem Cell Science company, also owned by Chow, found the same type of bacteria in a centrifugal machine and pipette filler on the premises. The women’s blood samples were also processed there for the treatment.

Yuen said the pipette – a tool used to transfer liquid – could be the “common source” of contamination.

The professor also said such a procedure should be supervised by a clinical haematologist in a hospital setting, while the blood processing should be conducted by a laboratory with international standards and led by a qualified director.

“Human beings are prone to errors. Even experienced people like myself make errors,” he said, explaining why there was a need for protocol.

The case continues before Madam Justice Judianna Barnes on Thursday.