Medical social worker saves kidney patient's life twice
Mr Loh Ah Wan, 75, had never missed a session at the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) dialysis centre in Tampines.
So when he did not turn up for a kidney dialysis session in June, a medical social worker (MSW), Miss Priscilla Ng, became worried and went to his flat.
When neighbours said they had not seen Mr Loh for two days, she alerted the police.
When Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers forcibly entered the flat, they found the retiree sprawled on the floor, unconscious.
If they had got there any later, Mr Loh would have died. But thanks to Miss Ng, he was taken to a hospital and he recovered.
That was not the only time that she played guardian angel to Mr Loh, who started dialysis two years ago.
Medical social worker Priscilla Ng. TNP PHOTO: AHMAD FARUQ BIN ROZALI
Two weeks after the incident, she again went to his rescue after he fell and started bleeding badly.
The Eunos Crescent resident has end-stage renal failure, a heart condition and hypertension, and goes for dialysis in Tampines three times a week.
In the incident on June 14, when he failed to show up for his usual 4½-hour session, the centre's nurses found that odd and alerted Miss Ng.
Miss Ng became worried when Mr Loh did not answer his landline or mobile phone.
Miss Ng, 26, told The New Paper last week: "Sometimes, patients skip the session on purpose. But according to past records, Mr Loh had never skipped any.
"I was worried that something might have happened to him, so I dropped everything and went to check on him at his home."
She said MSWs and nurses at dialysis centres pay closer attention to elderly clients who live alone and have multiple medical conditions, such as Mr Loh, because they are considered high-risk.
"There's no one looking out for them round the clock, so we tend to monitor their attendance more carefully."
When Miss Ng and a colleague arrived at Mr Loh's three-room flat at Eunos Crescent, they shouted for him to let them in and peeked through the windows to see if he was home.
A packet of food was hanging on his gate, so they figured he could not have gone far.
When his neighbours said they had not seen him in nearly two days, Miss Ng and her colleague went to the nearby neighbourhood police centre to make a report.
After the SCDF was alerted, it sent an ambulance, two fire bikes and a Red Rhino to the scene, and entered the flat by force, its spokesman told TNP.
Mr Loh, who was found unconscious on the bedroom floor, was taken to Changi General Hospital.
Miss Ng said he had passed out from low blood sugar levels and had minor injuries on the back of his head.
After he recovered, Miss Ng went to his rescue again on June 28 after receiving a call from Mr Loh's friend, who said he had fallen but refused to be taken to hospital.
"(His friend) said he had been bleeding for almost an hour after hitting his head in the fall, so I called for an ambulance and headed to his place," she said.
"In both instances, the paramedics told me that if we had found him any later, he might not have survived."
The two incidents have brought them closer.
Mr Loh, who used to be shy and private, now enjoys her company and they chat whenever they meet at the dialysis centre.
When he met her last week, he clasped his hands in front of his chest in a gesture of appreciation to Miss Ng.
He told TNP in Mandarin: "If not for her, I wouldn't be here.
"I've been meaning to treat her to a meal to thank her, but she won't let me."
Miss Ng said: "He never really opened up before, but after all this, he shares a lot about his past and how he gets lonely because he's estranged from his family.
"He even advises me to eat more and take care of myself, just like a grandfather would."Her boss, NKF's Allied Health and Resource Development director Chua Wei Bin, said: "Priscilla's close working relationship with the nurses enabled her to make a prompt visit to Mr Loh's house when he missed his dialysis, which saved his life.
"I am truly impressed with the teamwork between Priscilla and the nurses."
After close to four years in the industry, Miss Ng has rediscovered her passion for social work, after having made a difference to Mr Loh's well-being.
She said: "This is the first case where I felt that I really saved someone's life because of the work I do.
"It reminded me of the reason I'm here, and helped me to see the importance of my job as a form of hope and help to society."
Sometimes patients skip the session on purpose. But according to past records, Mr Loh had never skipped any. I was worried that something might have happened to him, so I dropped everything and went to check on him at his home.
- Medical social worker Priscilla Ng
How MSWs help patients
The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) has 19 medical social workers (MSW). Besides providing counselling and psycho-social support to NKF patients, MSWs also help look after their welfare.
They regularly visit and interact with dialysis patients at NKF's 31 dialysis centres across Singapore, and provide various forms of assistance.
This includes helping them review their dialysis fees and appealing to the Housing Board for rental flats on behalf of patients.
MSWs also ensure patients are able to get the necessary assistance and support from the community by referring them to welfare programmes and community partners.
The director of NKF's Allied Health and Resource Development, Mr Chua Wei Bin, said: "Kidney failure affects not only the patients but also their family members.
"MSWs play a critical role in supporting patients and their families as they are able to understand the struggles the family members go through.
"They can also address other issues and factors that impact the patients, such as depression and the burden of managing their long-term treatment."
According to the NKF website, there are about 6,000 dialysis patients here, with diabetes and hypertension being the two leading causes of kidney failure.
The NKF has 3,986 dialysis patients and beneficiaries under its programmes and treatment initiatives.
Dangers of low blood sugar levels
Taking too much diabetes medication, skipping meals, and exercising more than usual can lead to low blood sugar levels for patients with diabetes.
National Kidney Foundation (NKF) senior dietitian Lim Cheau Horng said low blood sugar levels can cause patients to experience dizziness, confusion, a racing pulse and weakness in the body.
Dr Abel Soh, a consultant endocrinologist from Abel Soh Diabetes, Thyroid and Endocrine Clinic at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, said: "When blood sugar levels drop too low, the patient can become disoriented, confused and even faint.
"If the person faints, they can hit their heads or hurt themselves.
"When social support is poor, for example, if the patient lives alone, they become high-risk because you never know when something dangerous like this can happen."
Dr Soh advised kidney failure patients to see a doctor if they experience low appetite and feel unwell.
He said: "It's important that they take medication and continue their dialysis. Skipping meals can also affect their blood sugar levels.
"If they find themselves with poor appetites or have any doubts, it would be best to see their doctor and get their medication levels adjusted.
"If they're prone to low sugar levels, it might also be useful to keep a few candies with them as that might help, too."
NKF's Ms Lim also suggested that patients do regular checks of their blood sugar levels to help keep it in the target range and prevent it from dropping too low.