Monday, October 22, 2012

3-year-old meningitis patient allowed to pay hospital bill over 42 years

SINGAPORE - A 42-YEAR arrangement.

That is what the Ting family has with KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH). It is to settle three-year-old Ting De Keat's medical bill.

This is the first time a hospital here has allowed a large medical bill to be broken up into interest-free monthly instalment payments over such a long period.

The amount? A whopping $130,000 - to treat and manage the boy's meningitis.

De Keat came down with fever on June 21 this year.

His mother, housewife Koh Tat Hong, 34, said: "He was seen by the family physician near our home, but when he vomited and complained of a neck ache the next day, we took him to the emergency room at KKH."

The boy was given stronger medication and sent home, but his temperature continued to rise.

"It was hovering at 39.9 and 40 degrees (Celsius) and he was given a suppository. But that helped only for a while," Madam Koh said.

Five days later, he was taken back to KKH and rushed into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

"Doctors said he had developed meningitis and it was causing his fits," his mother recalled, eyes brimming with tears.

De Keat underwent three operations to relieve the pressure in his skull and had a shunt installed to drain excess water from his brain.

He was in ICU for 24 days and was warded in the hospital for a total of 50 days.

"When we were handed the bill and told to settle $30,000 first, we were shocked. How could we afford to pay? We couldn't even afford to settle the first $30,000 let alone the full bill," Madam Koh said.

She and her husband Ting Kok Ing, 36, a container truck driver, are Malaysians living here.

"He gets paid on consignments and makes about $1,000 a month to support the family," she said.

The Tings have a younger son, who is being looked after by Madam Koh's mother in Malaysia.

To help the Tings with the bill and follow-up treatment for De Keat, a medical social worker at KKH approached several charitable organisations.

But when none of them replied, the couple approached MP K. Shanmugam.

Mr Shanmugam, who represents Nee Soon GRC, wrote a letter to the hospital on behalf of the Tings, appealing for its understanding.

If boy were Singaporean... 

Mr Shanmugam, who is also the Law and Foreign Minister, told The New Paper that if the boy were a Singapore citizen, it would have been easier to help.

"We have several ways of helping citizens and our 3M framework (Medisave, MediShield and Medifund) would also have kicked in. But here the situation was different.

"Both parents are permanent residents from Malaysia and the boy is not a Singapore citizen. But we have to be compassionate - the father is a delivery driver and the mother has quit her job.

"We can't walk away from them. So I tried to help them," he said.

Madam Koh said: "We were happy when we received a letter last month from the hospital informing us we could make payment in monthly instalments of $250."

De Keat is recovering at home. He is conscious and reacts to what he is told, but cannot talk or stand up. He is still being fed through a tube.

Unique agreement 

This case is the first of its kind.

A National University Hospital spokesman said a 42-year repayment period is uncommon.

"Assistance schemes are available for patients who have genuine financial difficulties. These patients will be referred to the medical social workers to explore means of assistance.

"No patient will be denied medical care due to the inability to pay," she said.

Medical social workers TNP spoke to said hospital bills can be paid by instalments, but they "didn't know it could be done to such an extent".

Ms Jacqueline Ang, a medical social worker for HCA Hospice Care, said: "Instalment payment is negotiable and handled on a case-by-case basis. This shows the compassion of an institution such as KKH."

KKH could not reply to our questions by press time.

As for the Tings, they are hopeful De Keat will recover and return to being the bright-eyed intelligent boy he was before he fell ill.


What is meningitis

It is an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meninges).
  • Viruses: This is the most common cause. A number of different viruses can cause the disease, including mosquito-borne viruses.
  • Bacteria
  • Fungi
  • Parasites
What are the signs and symptoms?
In its early stages, symptoms might be similar to that of flu, but some people have become seriously ill within hours. Early symptoms include:
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Muscle ache
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Cold hands and feet
  • A rash that does not fade under pressure
What is the treatment? 

Viral meningitis will resolve itself fairly quickly and does not usually need any medical treatment. See a doctor if symptoms continue after two weeks.

Severe meningitis, which is nearly always bacterial, is treated with antibiotics, usually given intravenously, and other drugs.

Source: National Health Service (UK), The Mayo Clinic and National Institutes of Health (US)

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