Family sues clinic for $1M over liposuction death

June 12, 2011
By: Lianhe Zhaobao

ALTHOUGH he looked trim and fit, he was troubled by his love handles.

His quest for perfection cost him his life after a liposuction operation went horribly wrong.

Now, his family is seeking at least $1 million in compensation from the clinic that performed the procedure and the two doctors who own the practice, reported Lianhe Zaobao yesterday.

On Dec 30, 2009, 44-year-old Franklin Heng (left) was rushed by ambulance from Reves Clinic to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH).

The chief executive officer of YTL Pacific Star, a property management firm, was pronounced dead at 6pm the same day despite attempts by TTSH doctors to save him.

Although Mr Heng showed no signs of life when he arrived at the hospital just after 5pm that day, doctors spent almost an hour trying to resuscitate him.

Mr Heng’s death certificate indicated that he had died from punctures to his intestines sustained during liposuction surgery.

His death is the first in Singapore to be linked to liposuction, a surgical procedure in which fat is drawn out through a tube attached to a suction device while the patient is under general anaesthesia or sedation.

He left behind a will and his family have appointed Rockwills Trustee Limited as its administrator.

MOH ordered clinic to stop

According to its website, Rockwills Trustee provides various types of trustee businesses, ranging from estate administration, private trust services to corporate trust services.

It is now representing the beneficiaries of his estate in the civil suit against Reves Clinic and its partners – general practitioners Dr Jim Wong, 35, and Dr Zhu Xiu Chun.

Following the death, the Health Ministry ordered the clinic at International Building on Orchard Road to stop offering liposuction and liposuction-related procedures.

The family claims in its lawsuit that Reves Clinic did not perform a thorough examination of Mr Heng’s abdomen and that it was not aware that performing liposuction on the same area could lead to complications.

It is believed that Mr Heng had liposuction surgery done previously in the same abdominal area. It is not known who performed the previous operation.

The family claimed that Dr Wong had not reminded Mr Heng of the risks of the surgery before the operation.

These included which areas of the body posed more risks during the operation and the possibility that his organs could be perforated during surgery.

The family also claimed that the clinic did not inform Mr Heng of the risks of having anaesthesia administered by someone other than a hospital anaesthetist.

The statement of claims said that when Mr Heng first saw Dr Wong on Dec 4, 2009, he (Mr Heng) had been asked to sign a consent form and told that the clinic would make the surgery arrangements on the same day.

It alleged that Mr Heng’s injuries – 13 puncture wounds in his abdomen and one wound each in his appendix and colon – could not have happened unless there was negligence or incompetence on the part of Dr Wong.

The family was also unhappy that the defendants did not arrange for an anaesthetist to administer the anaesthesia and to monitor his condition.

It claimed that checks on Mr Heng’s blood pressure, heart rate and breathing were not performed regularly during and after the surgery, and that the clinic did not ensure that these readings were normal or stable.

Previous marriage

Mr Heng has a son and daughter from his previous marriage. In addition to giving his ex-wife and two children $9,000 in living expenses, he had also paid for their travel expenses and other expenditures.

His 90-year-old mother also incurs up to $1,000 in household expenses a month and now has to pay for her own medical fees. Mr Heng was previously paying his mother’s expenses.

Mr Heng had said that he would pay for his children’s overseas university education and that he had expressed a wish to buy each of them a piece of property and a car, said the family.

Lianhe Zaobao reported that Dr Wong had said in his statement of defence that he had told Mr Heng of a seven-day “cooling off” period before the surgery and that he could take as long as he wanted to make a decision.

Dr Wong added that he had carried out a physical check-up on Mr Heng and had found no abnormalities.

He informed Mr Heng of the risks of performing liposuction more than once, and had checked with him if he had gone through the procedure before.

Dr Wong also pointed out that although piercing the abdominal wall during liposuction was a rare occurrence, in Mr Heng’s case it was not a wound but a natural result of the surgery.

Dr Zhu was on hand to observe the procedure and, as Mr Heng’s vital signs were stable, he had no reason to believe that his condition would suddenly deteriorate.

When Mr Heng’s condition took a turn for the worse, he mobilised all the medical staff in the clinic to treat Mr Heng.

As for Dr Zhu, she was said to be monitoring his vital signs and was not directly involved in the surgery.

Although she was not an anaesthetist, she was said to be experienced in assisting anaesthetists since 1993.

In the past, both she and Dr Wong had helped to monitor the vital signs of each other’s clients without incident.

A pre-trial hearing has been set for next week.

Close friends of the divorced father of two said that although he was “fit, trim and in the pink of health”, he was concerned about the “love handles” around his abdominal area, The Straits Times had reported.

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