Volunteer Sars doctor dies of virus

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2003, 12:00am

The government has offered a hero's burial for the woman, 35, whose death has sparked widespread grief - and anger

A 35-year-old woman doctor who volunteered to work with Sars patients in Tuen Mun Hospital died yesterday, the first public hospital doctor to die of the virus in Hong Kong.

Tse Yuen-man was infected with the virus when she tried to resuscitate a terminal Sars patient together with male nurse Lau Wing-kai, 38, who was also infected and died of the virus on April 26.

Tse's death - on a day when Hong Kong suffered a reverse in the downward trend of Sars-related deaths and new cases - was greeted with shock and grief.

Tse was a widow whose husband, also a doctor, died last year of leukaemia. They had no children.

Top officials praised her for her selflessness and dedication to her job. The government also offered to give her a permanent burial at Gallant Garden, a site reserved for civil servants who die while performing exceptional acts of bravery.

Tuen Mun Hospital chief executive Cheung Wai-lun confirmed both Tse and Lau had been infected with Sars by a patient who died of the disease early this month. They both came down with the disease on April 3. Tse was transferred to the intensive care unit on April 15 after her condition deteriorated.

Top microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung, from the University of Hong Kong, and Joseph Sung Jao-yiu, professor and chairman of the department of Medicine and Therapeutics at Chinese University, treated Tse when she was under intensive care.

Professor Yuen was full of praise. 'What touched me most was Tse volunteered to work in the Sars wards. I saw how [her colleagues] tried their best to save her life, but her condition was too serious,' he said.

Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa lauded Tse for her professionalism and courage. 'I believe the whole community will not forget her selfless devotion,' he said.

Other senior officials expressing their condolences were the health secretary and the chairman and chief executive of the Hospital Authority. The authority said a sum from its charitable foundation would be used to help Tse's relatives.

But not everyone was in charitable mood over the doctor's death. Public Doctors Association president Leung Ka-lau said he was angry at the Hospital Authority for failing to provide enough protection to frontline medical staff.

Until yesterday, 67 medical workers remained in hospital, including 10 in intensive care units. But more worrying was that two medical workers - one from Princess Margaret Hospital and the other from Sha Tin Hospital - were among the six new infections yesterday. The total now stands at 1,689, while the seven new casualties took the death toll to 225.