SCMP Saturday, August 5, 2000

Skin sought overseas for burn victims' grafts


Doctors are seeking skin supplies from overseas to treat three people who suffered serious burns in Wednesday's arson attack at Immigration Tower.

Immigration officer Choi To, 38, and abode-seekers Pang Hon-kwan, 41, and Wong Yan-chung, 35, were in critical condition in the intensive care unit at Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin last night.

The hospital's acting chief of surgery, Professor Peter Chan Siu-foon, said yesterday that the hospital's skin bank was expected to be emptied in about a week. His team had contacted the Euro Skin Bank in the Netherlands and was considering seeking supplies from there.

Professor Chan said Mr Choi had suffered 20 per cent burns, developed lung complications and been put on an artificial ventilator. Mr Choi's condition deteriorated from serious to critical on Thursday. "His lungs have swollen because he inhaled hot smoke. His condition deteriorated because it took some time for the lungs to show the inflammatory response," Professor Chan said.

Mr Choi's life was not in immediate danger, however. Skin was being grafted on to the three patients as temporary dressings to avoid infection and fluid loss. They will later need skin grafts from their own bodies.

"The skin dressing has to be changed frequently. Our stock will soon be used up. It's like a bank run if you have so many burned patients suddenly," Professor Chan said.

"We won't sit and wait until there is only one last piece of skin in our bank . . . We may also get help from major hospitals in Shanghai."

He said there was no need to panic about a shortage of skin. "We can always get overseas assistance. The skin can be available in a few days if we need it."

A Hospital Authority spokesman said the supply of skin was normal. The authority's organ transplant co-ordinator would step up efforts to ask families to donate skin from deceased relatives.

The Prince of Wales, one of the two main burn centres in Hong Kong, treated the victims of the Pat Sin Leng fire in 1996, which left three students and two teachers dead and six schoolchildren with horrific burns.

Three students, who suffered burns covering 70 to 80 per cent of their bodies and were once predicted to have less than a 50 per cent chance of surviving, have recovered.

The son of senior immigration officer Leung Kam-kwong, 43, who suffered 65 per cent burns, flew home from Britain yesterday to see his father. Former legislator Dr Leong Che-hung, who visited Mr Leung yesterday, said the first stage of skin grafts would be performed in the coming days.

Director of Immigration Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong has thanked members of the public who have sent letters, faxes and e-mail messages expressing condolences to officers injured in the attack.