Probe launched after tiny air bubbles on patient’s brain in Hong Kong hospital

Man, 68, who had pneumonia and multiple organ failure, showed signs of paralysis on left side as his condition suddenly worsened

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 August, 2017, 1:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 August, 2017, 4:03pm

A medical investigation has been launched after a 68-year-old male patient showed signs of stroke, possibly caused by tiny air bubbles found on the right side of his brain.

The man had been in Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Yau Ma Tei since March with severe pneumonia and multiple organ failure. At about 12.30pm on Friday, his condition deteriorated, resulting in paralysis on the left side of his body.

The patient had been fed via a tube after having various bowel operations in early April and the hospital said his condition had been gradually improving.

Resuscitation was conducted after the patient showed signs of paralysis and consultations from multiple departments, including the intensive care unit, neurology and toxicology, were arranged.

An urgent CAT scan found tiny air bubbles on the right side of his brain – a condition that matched the acute stroke symptoms on the left side of his body.

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The patient was moved to the intensive care unit that evening and later transferred to the Recompression Treatment Centre on Stonecutters Island for hyperbaric oxygen therapy. The treatment involves placing the patient in a room or tube where the air pressure is increased above normal levels.

The man was then moved to Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital’s intensive care unit.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital has explained the case and the follow-up treatment plan to the patient’s family. The hospital will also collaborate with Eastern Hospital to provide appropriate treatment.

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The investigation will look into why air bubbles had occurred in the man’s brain. An initial inquiry showed the medical team had provided prompt treatment.

A root cause analysis panel is expected to submit an investigation report to the Hospital Authority head office in eight weeks’ time.

Dr Hung Wai-man, a private neurosurgeon, said air bubbles could enter blood vessels and travel to the brain if there was gas in the catheter transferring nutrition to the patient.

He said the hyperbaric oxygen therapy could help the air bubbles dissolve into the blood.