Four-year-old Hong Kong girl’s ‘rare’ cardiac arrest after receiving stitches sparks hospital probe

By Jess Ma

Medical experts are looking into what caused a four-year-old girl to suffer a cardiac arrest after she received stitches for a head wound, Hong Kong hospital authorities have said.

Dr Desmond Nguyen, deputising chief executive of Kowloon West hospitals, described the incident as “rare” but said he had asked medical experts to find out why the girl fell unconscious and why her heart stopped after Saturday’s procedure, leaving her in a critical condition.

“We have arranged medical and accidents and emergency specialists to examine all procedures in the incident,” he said on Tuesday.

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“At the same time, we will try to understand the four-year-old’s condition from multiple aspects, including underlying diseases that could have caused or are relevant to the cardiac arrest.”

Dr Desmond Nguyen. Photo: Elson Li

Dr Ian Cheung, chief executive of Yan Chai Hospital, where the girl was treated for the head wound sustained from a fall at home, said “no procedural error has been identified yet”.

Cheung said the girl was first brought to the hospital on Saturday evening with a 2cm cut at the back of her head and a slight fever.

The patient, accompanied by her father, waited for an hour before she was seen by a doctor, and received three stitches in a three-minute procedure ending at 11.31pm.

“At 11.28pm, after the first stitch, the girl was struggling and crying. Our patient care assistant then used her hands to stabilise the patient’s head,” Cheung said.

The assistant and a nurse later discovered the girl had lost consciousness after the procedure and her heart had stopped. They performed first aid on her immediately to try and revive her.

At 11.49pm, the girl’s heart began to beat again. But Cheung said for a healthy child with no pre-existing heart problems, the 18 minutes it took was “slower than expected”.

Doctors later took X-rays of her lungs and brain, which did not show abnormalities. The girl’s father was present throughout the stitching procedure.

The child was subsequently transferred to the paediatric intensive care unit at Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung for further treatment.

Dr Fong Nai-chung, chief of service at the paediatrics and adolescent medicine departments of Princess Margaret Hospital, Yan Chai Hospital and North Lantau Hospital, said the girl had been diagnosed with critical hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy – a dysfunction of the brain caused by a lack of oxygen and reduced blood flow.

The child is on a ventilator and receiving a variety of drugs for the heart, oedema and epilepsy. She is also being given antibiotics and nutrition via an intravenous drip.

“In our communication with the girl’s parents, [we learned] the patient’s physical condition was normal. She had no chronic diseases,” Fong said, adding that there were no abnormalities in the girl’s electrocardiography and ultrasound results.

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