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When Every Second Counts
How SCDF Call Centre Specialists, Paramedics and doctors work together to save lives, especially those of stroke victims.

Strokes can happen anywhere, to anyone. Here’s how Sergeant (SGT) Muhamed Helmi and his Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) Paramedic crew saved 72-year-old Mr Tan Mong Huat, a Grab driver who suffered a stroke while on the job.

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Mr Tan (second from right) with the paramedics who attended to him (from left): SGT VB Saravanan, Staff Sergeant M Mohd Yazid and SGT Muhamed Helmi. PHOTO: Peggy Tan

Paramedics on the Scene
It was the evening of 21 August 2018 and Mr Tan was ferrying a passenger along Clementi Road. It was a typical night for Mr Tan, who first became a Grab driver after having retired for more than 15 years. 

Before he knew what happened, Mr Tan's car crashed to a stop. “I heard a loud bang, so I thought one of my tires had punctured,” he recalled. “But what actually happened was that I’d knocked into a lamp-post by the side of the road.” 

Mr Tan’s passenger was unharmed, and he quickly called 995. The call was taken by an officer at the SCDF’s Operations Centre. A quick check by the Call Specialist showed that SGT Helmi and his Paramedic crew were the closest first responders to the scene, and they were quickly alerted and dispatched.

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At the SCDF Operations Centre, SCDF Call Specialists work alongside nurses on calls that require urgent medical attention. Critical cases of stroke, cardiac arrest and major trauma will receive priority. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

The Paramedics arriving at the accident scene within minutes. As SGT Helmi assisted Mr Tan, his crew members attended to the passenger and redirected traffic.

SGT Helmi learnt that before the crash, Mr Tan had difficulty driving straight, and that he felt a sense of numbness on the right side of his body. SGT Helmi also noted that his speech was slurred: “This raised my suspicion that Mr Tan might have had a stroke before the accident.” 

Stroke patients have a treatment window of only four to six hours, and SGT Helmi knew he had to act fast. The trouble is that strokes aren’t always easy to identify; cases involving low blood sugar, neck injuries and bleeding in the brain also have similar symptoms to a stroke. 

SGT Helmi quickly assessed Mr Tan and ruled out other possibilities. The Paramedics then sent Mr Tan to National University Hospital, where a medical team was ready to receive him.
 
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Attending to Mr Tan were Dr Pang Da Xian (left) who led the emergency team and Dr Prakash R Paliwal, who led the stroke team. PHOTOS: Peggy Tan

On Standby at the Hospital
“Any suspected case of stroke has priority over other medical cases,” shared Dr Pang Da Xian, a resident with National University Health System.

With no time to waste, the Paramedics relayed information about Mr Tan to the hospital. This allowed the medical team to review his medical history and have the relevant personnel and equipment ready.

There was one complication, however. “Mr Tan’s case wasn’t a ‘pure’ stroke because he’d also received trauma from the accident,” explained Dr Prakash R Paliwal, the specialist in charge of the stroke team. “That’s why getting prior information from the Paramedics was crucial.” 

The precise coordination between the Paramedics and the medical team allowed Mr Tan to receive the necessary care within the treatment window. After identifying that his stroke was caused by a proximal vessel occlusion (a clot in one of the blood vessels of the brain), the doctors performed surgery on him to remove the clot.

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Mr Tan, on the road to recovery. PHOTO: Peggy Tan

A Reunion 
Mr Tan was discharged after a week in the hospital. He’s currently following up with a doctor, taking medication to prevent another stroke – and glad to have a second shot at life.

In October, Mr Tan finally got to meet the Paramedics who attended to him that fateful August evening. “I didn’t know a stroke can happen so suddenly,” he said with gratitude. “I want to say a big ‘thank you’ to the SCDF officers, and to my passenger that night, who called 995. I’m very grateful to all of you; you saved my life.”

The occasion was equally moving for the Paramedics. “We don’t often see the people we help after sending them to the hospital,” said SGT Helmi. “So it’s really heartwarming to meet Mr Tan again, and to see him healthy and well. Moments like these make our work fulfilling.”


Do You Know How to Spot a Stroke?
One in six people will have a stroke in his or her lifetime, and there are about 8,000 stroke cases in Singapore annually. Here’s how you can tell if someone is having a stroke: 

FAST
  •  Face Drooping: Is the person’s smile uneven?
  •  Arm Weakness: Can the person raise both arms and keep them up?
  •  Speech Difficulty: Does the person’s speech sound slurred?
  •  Time to call 995: If the person is exhibiting these signs, he or she should be rushed to the hospital immediately. Call 995 and an SCDF Operations Centre Specialist will advise you while you wait for the ambulance to arrive.

  1. by Fatimah Mujibah
  2. 23 November 2018
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