KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 2 — On July 18 last year, a Sultan Abdul Halim Hospital ambulance crashed when a tyre burst, causing a patient’s death while four health workers survived.
Dr Khaveenraj Devarajah, who works as a medical officer in the medical department of the government hospital based in Sungai Petani, Kedah, was one of the survivors of the road traffic accident, along with the ambulance driver, a staff nurse, and a senior health care assistant (PPK).
But one year later, the 32-year-old doctor is still walking with crutches and suffers from a foot drop, a permanent disability that prevents him from lifting the front part of his left foot. He even developed another fracture in his left foot last month because of the foot drop.
“Everything is affected,” Dr Khaveenraj told CodeBlue in an interview.
“My career progression is affected. You’re scared of the ambulance. You’re traumatised. You’re scared it might happen again.”
The accident forced Dr Khaveenraj, who has been working at Sultan Abdul Halim Hospital since 2011, to skip an MRCP(UK) examination last October that would have qualified him to be a specialist in internal medicine. He now plans to take it next year.
Dr Khaveenraj was hospitalised for eight days after the crash and used a wheelchair for four months.
He said he was transporting a male patient in an ambulance from Sultan Abdul Halim Hospital to Sultanah Bahiyah Hospital in Alor Star, Kedah, for neurosurgery when the ambulance’s tyre exploded while the driver was overtaking another vehicle at KM81.4 of the North-South Expressway on July 18, 2018, at about 6pm.
The ambulance lost control, spun, and overturned at the roadside.
“I was on the floor and I couldn’t move. My left hip was dislocated. I was bleeding from my face. I was fractured in my mouth and my eye. My left arm got fractured. My mouth was totally disfigured. My chin bone was fractured,” he said.
Dr Khaveenraj underwent major surgery for hip and jaw fractures. The surgery on his left hip, he said, resulted in permanent left foot drop. He wore a cast for six weeks to treat a fractured forearm. His eyes’ orbital floor was fractured too.
He paid RM3,000 for surgery implants in his face and leg, but his hospital charges were borne by the government because he’s a civil servant.
Dr Khaveenraj only returned to work last February, about seven months after the accident.
The young doctor lost about RM2,000 monthly income from his on-call and weekend locum work. He used to do on-call duty after office hours about five to six times a month, which netted him RM1,000. He also used to work as a locum at a private general practitioner (GP) clinic on weekends for four to five hours, which earned him another RM1,000.
Dr Khaveenraj’s wife, who works as a manager, took unpaid leave to care for him for about a month after the crash.
“I’m now on light duty in the clinic only,” said Dr Khaveenraj, adding that he doesn’t do on-call or locum work because he’s still on crutches.
He fell into depression for a while, he said, but he’s “now getting used to it”.
“I like hiking. I like to run. All that I can’t do now because of this,” said Dr Khaveenraj. “Last time, I used to do yoga. Now I can’t because I’m still having pain.”
Dr Khaveenraj is still waiting for compensation from the government for his injuries, more than a year after the accident.
When he filed a police report last February about the accident upon returning to work, he said police told him they have sent investigation papers to prosecutors, but did not tell him the cause of the crash or the ambulance tyre blowout.
UEM Edgenta oversees ambulance maintenance in Sultan Abdul Halim Hospital and 31 other Ministry of Health (MOH) hospitals in the northern region, including Slim River Hospital in Perak. The government-linked company has a 10-year concession with MOH ending 2025 to provide hospital support services to those hospitals in Kedah, Perak, Penang, and Perlis.
Last August 4, a Slim River Hospital ambulance crashed in Slim River, killing the driver and patient, which early police investigations said was caused by a burst tyre. Three weeks later, the tyre of another ambulance from the MOH hospital exploded on August 28, but the vehicle didn’t get into an accident.
Several Slim River Hospital staff have complained that the public hospital’s ambulances previously suffered tyre bursts up to three times this year before the fatal August 4 accident, and three more times last year. Those incidents didn’t result in crashes.
Dr Khaveenraj stressed that he was not blaming anyone for his accident, but said he merely wanted a safer work environment for his colleagues as Sultan Abdul Halim Hospital ambulances take patients out every day to the nearest facilities for services like brain surgery and angiograms.
“I don’t think I’ll send patients out on an ambulance anymore,” he said.