By Yasmeen Banu / Andrew Loh
On a fateful day in March 2011, Lian Huizuan collapsed in Changi Women’s Prison.
She was pronounced dead shortly after.
Huizuan was 27-years old.
She has two young daughters.
Just five months before Huizuan’s death, 21-year old Dinesh Raman died in Changi Prison while being restrained by prison officers on 27 September 2010.
Both deaths occurred in Changi Prison – 6 months apart.
The deaths in prison while under the care of the state with causes that are debatable is enough reason to worry about how inmates are treated behind the high metal fences.
For example, the autopsy report into Huizuan’s death said that she had 19 times the therapeutic range of the drug, amitriptyline, in her blood on the day she died.
Forensic Pathologist Professor Teo Eng Swee from the Health Sciences Authority said that amitriptyline at “three to six times” the therapeutic range “would have caused death to a normal person.”
Huizuan and her father had complained about her condition several times to prison officers, all of whom seemingly paid no attention to these.
Yet, till date, no prison officer or the doctors have been brought to account for the lapses.
With the case of Huizuan, one out of the dozens of questions that would bother anyone is:
“Why did no one within the premises care enough?”
She was to be released from Changi Women’s Prison just one week from the day she passed away.
Having 19 times the expected therapeutic range of medication in her blood is shocking. With a toxicity level that high, there must have been obvious signs or symptoms exhibited by Huizuan. Signs that would have been worrying. Signs that would have been odd, even alarming.
And in fact there were.
But the doctors missed these signs because one of them, when asked, said the medical file on Huizuan was “too thick” and thus he had no time to read it.
The file was too thick.
A lady who was able to physically function and speak normally slowly turned into a person who was physically weak, falling in prison, in her cells, and having multiple dizzy spells. A lady who could speak normally slowly turned into a lady who was slurring, and who had so much difficulty just finishing a sentence.
How was this not alarming? How was this not worrying? How was this a situation that did not require immediate and urgent medical attention?
But Huizuan did receive medical attention – all of four minutes, on average each time, nine times over the course of 10 months.
Four minutes of consultation.
Think about it for a moment.
From the consultations that were mere minutes, to insufficient manpower, to both her doctors “working in silos” and not consulting each other on Huizuan’s condition, to the disinterest in the signs that were shown by Huizuan, to not having empathy over her complaints, and not informing her family about her autopsy, it is hard to fathom how all these could have taken place.
However, the bigger question here is not, “How could this have happened?” It did happen.
The bigger question here is what is being done to prevent further carelessness that results in death in the hands of the state.
It’s been three years since Huizuan’s death. Her family never got closure because no one has stepped forward to take responsibility.
Not Changi Women’s Prison. Not the Ministry of Home Affairs. Not Raffles Medical Group, the service provider engaged by the prison.
“They don’t even call me up or talk to me at all,” Huizuan’s father, Lian Hock Kwee, told us when The Online Citizen (TOC) met him about two weeks ago.
“They don’t even apologise. Nobody apologised to me at all. Nobody talked to me at all … all this time. The Prisons, the Ministry of Home Affairs, nobody.”
Below is a 4-minute short clip of the interview we did with Mr Lian. Please take a few minutes and watch it. And please share this video and Huizuan’s story.
It is shameful that the authorities have not even offered a single word of apology to her still-grieving family, including her father and her two young daughters.[Read TOC’s earlier report on the case here: "Woman’s death from overmedication in prison – father takes legal action”]