22/11/00 - South China Morning Post

More could have been done by hospital staff to help a woman who died after an epileptic fit, but it was unlikely this would have saved her life, a coroner said yesterday.

Recording a verdict of death by natural causes in the case of Harinder Veriah, Coroner Andrew Chan Hing-wai made no reference to allegations raised by her husband that Ruttonjee Hospital staff discriminated against his wife because of her race.

Veriah, 33, an ethnic-Indian solicitor from England, had a fit and collapsed on January 1 – a day after her birthday – while celebrating the millennium in Causeway Bay. She was sent to the hospital, where she suffered another fit on January 2 and died about four hours later.

During the inquest, Veriah’s husband, London journalist Martin Jacques, said: ‘She [told me] ‘I am at the bottom of the pile’. I was very shocked and said ‘What do you mean?’ She said: ‘I am the only Indian here, everyone else is Chinese’.’

The hospital last night denied it had discriminated against Veriah, in its first public response to the allegation.

The mother-of-one had been in a stable condition since her admission to the hospital. But the situation changed on January 2 at about 8.35am when she had another fit.

Dr Chan Tai-kin ordered a nurse to inject her with 3mg of Valium. She improved soon afterwards and Dr Chan left her, the inquest heard.

The nurse later noticed her blood oxygen level had not changed, although she had received extra oxygen. The nurse increased the input but the level did not change, so she called Dr Chan to resuscitate her.

However, Veriah later stopped breathing, had a cardiac arrest and was declared dead at 12.15pm. An autopsy could not determine the cause of death.

Mr Chan yesterday said while the cause of death remained unresolved, he believed she had suffered respiratory depression – a declining level of oxygen – as suggested by neurologist Dr Patrick Li Chung-ki.

The depression had probably led to sudden unexpected death in epilepsy, which sometimes claimed otherwise healthy young adults, Mr Chan said.

‘The deceased’s condition prior to her death matched the definition and almost all the criteria cited in [medical journals],’ he said. ‘The question was whether ventilation support at the time [of Veriah’s death] was adequate. With the benefit of hindsight, I’m sure more could have been done on that. However, there was little evidence to suggest that would alter the outcome.

‘In view of all the circumstances, I conclude that the deceased’s death was one of natural causes.’

– Shirley Lau