Help to breathe easy – at home

TTSH's ventilation service helps those with breathing woes avoid prolonged hospital stays

ST 140112 Help to breathe 

The Straits Times (14 January 2012) - IT WAS a prolonged hospital stay that could have been avoided.

Faced with breathing difficulties due to a spinal cord injury, a patient needed a ventilation machine to help him breathe. But the complexities of managing one, lack of home support and financial help meant he ended up staying in the hospital for 13 months, until he died.

Patients can now stay at home even if they need a ventilation machine, thanks to Tan Tock Seng Hospital's (TTSH) Home Ventilation Service.

The programme trains caregivers and helps them navigate the complexity of caring for patients with such conditions.

The Health Ministry recently approved a five-year project at TTSH to study the benefits of having home ventilation services in more hospitals.

Dr Chan Yeow, consultant and director of the Home Ventilation Service, said the scheme was initiated about two years ago because there was a number of middle-aged men with high spinal cord injuries who were dependent on ventilators.

'We wanted to enable patients who need help breathing to lead a happier and longer life at home. This can be achieved by providing training to caregivers such that they can become a doctor, nurse and respiratory therapist all in one,' said Dr Chan.

Besides patients with traumatic spinal injuries, others who may require assisted ventilation include those with motor neuron diseases and muscular dystrophy.

Under the scheme, caregivers will be trained to use the respiratory machine. A physiotherapist and nurse will also be roped in to train the caregiver in other areas, such as how to prevent bed sores, and helping the patient with limb exercises.

So far, 25 patients have benefited from this service. More are being recruited for the study.

One of them is Mr Shia Goo, 65, who became paralysed from the neck down after a car accident late last year.

He now also suffers from muscle weakness which has left him with breathing difficulties, particularly when he suffers from a cold or flu.

He was discharged from hospital in November last year, and now depends on two machines - a non-invasive ventilation machine that helps him breathe, and a machine that removes phlegm from his body.

His maid and 30-year-old daughter X.Z. Shia underwent a week-long training by a respiratory therapist to learn how to use the machines.

They were also given contact numbers to call if they needed help to troubleshoot, and in case of an emergency.

'The programme is really helpful because there's always a chance of an infection in the hospital, which we want to avoid,' said Ms Shia, who works in the food industry, adding that it also cuts down on the hassle of visiting the hospital, especially for non-emergencies.

But the cost of home ventilation is no small sum because of the cost of buying or renting a machine. The cost varies according to the patient's condition. Monthly expenses could range from $500 to $1,800, depending on the cost of the type of ventilation machine and consumables, such as diapers.

Patients who need financial assistance for this can tap the Help Me Go Home fund, set up by TTSH's Community Fund to help subsidise the purchase of costly medical equipment for patients.

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Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.