Asthma woman died waiting for rescuers

Shirley Lau

A housewife died of an asthma attack as ambulancemen, working with incomplete information, took 1.5 hours to find her home, an inquest heard yesterday.

Senior officer Leung Sui-tong, one of the team to be called to Lo Pui-ling's Yuen Long home, told the Coroner's Court he knocked on her door during a random search based on an address without a flat number.

She was unable to answer the door, probably because she had already collapsed, Coroner Paul Kelly said.

Lo, 38, an asthma sufferer since 1993, called police at 2.48pm on October 29 last year after suffering an attack while alone at home. She asked them to get and an ambulance for her. She gave police her phone number and address stating the floor, the block and the name of the complex where she lived, but had omitted the flat number - 1203.

Mr Leung and his crew members arrived at the building six minutes later.

He contacted the emergency service operators, which reconfirmed the incomplete address but gave no personal details about Lo - not her name or even the fact that she was a woman.

The crew then began a search, knocking on the doors of 24 flats on three floors at the two-block complex.

The team knocked on Lo's door but, receiving no response, moved on. They then called the console again, but staff could not provide further information because there was no answer from Lo's phone.

Mr Leung told the court he did not ask for Lo's phone number because 'I did not have a phone with me at that time', adding that officers were now equipped with hand-held phones on rescue missions.

The court heard that it was not until the third attempt calling the console at about 3.45pm that Mr Leung was told Lo's number and name.

Mr Kelly expressed surprise the console did not give the ambulancemen the name of the victim earlier. 'This is common practice carried out by the console,' said Mr Leung.

The ambulancemen then looked at tenant records in the building and thought Flat 1203 could be Lo's because the number made up four digits of her phone number, although there was a different surname.

The crew went up to the flat again and called for help from the police, who arrived at 3.50pm. The officers called clinics and a hospital in the area to see whether any patients had been admitted.

They then phoned Lo's number and once they heard the phone ringing in the flat, they knew it was hers.

Police posted an officer at the flat and called the Fire Services Department to break down the door. But before this was done, Lo's teenage son returned from school, arriving at 4.20pm. He opened the door to find his mother on the floor of the living room.

The mother-of-one, who died from bronchial asthma, was certified dead before arriving at Pok Oi Hospital. Mr Leung said Lo could have survived had she been rescued earlier.

Recording a verdict of death from natural causes, Coroner Paul Kelly recommended extra training be given to ambulance officers to help them track people down.