Man on trial for practising TCM without license after former patient dies

Wan Ting Koh
An employee sorts out herbs at a traditional Chinese medicine shop in Shanghai. (PHOTO: Reuters)

He allegedly treated a man with traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) techniques for over a year, but the man’s health worsened and he eventually died less than a year after his last TCM session.

Singaporean Wong Choo Kum, 69, allegedly promised the man that he would cure him of his diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and treated the man from 2013 to 2015 from his Marsiling flat.

Over this period, the man allegedly forked out a total of $10,000 for the weekly sessions, which included tuina – a form of Chinese therapeutic massage. The 60-year-old man, who died from kidney failure in January 2016, cannot be named due to a gag order.

Wong, whose trial began on Monday (15 January), faces one charge of practising TCM while unqualified and another for false advertising by giving out a name card which stated that he provided specialist treatments for conditions including diabetes, asthma, and tumours.

Appearing at the State Courts, Wong, who did not have a lawyer, denied treating anyone with TCM as he was “not a medical practitioner”.

Anyone who practises TCM is required to be accredited by the Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners Board (TCMPB), a statutory board established under the TCM Practitioners Act. A check with the TCMPB website, however, did not turn up Wong’s name.

A Ministry of Heath prosecutor said on Monday that the ministry would be adducing an officer from the TCMPB who would testify that Wong was not registered with the body.

Expensive treatments 

The man’s wife also took the stand to say that Wong treated her husband from November 2013 to February 2015 from his flat, which she claimed he shared with his girlfriend and daughter.

The 63-year-old housewife said that her husband was taking Western medicine – including insulin for his diabetes – when he began the TCM treatments.

However, Wong allegedly told her husband to stop taking his Western medication and to consume only the medicine he provided.

“My husband said that the TCM doctor guaranteed he would be cured after 13 sessions of treatment,” said the woman in Mandarin via an interpreter. “Wong told him you’ll go blind even if you see the (Western) doctor.”

She said that her husband initially felt “refreshed” after taking Wong’s medication but became drowsy and dizzy after a prolonged period of consuming it. The medicine included a powdery substance and herbs, which were later sent to the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) for analysis.

Her husband would pay between $300 and $500 for each session, which included six medicinal packets that cost $20 each. Wong would allegedly ask for more money for additional ingredients, including sugarcane, black beans and ginseng, which was “very expensive”.

Wong would also require an ang pow (red packet) and alcohol for each session, the woman claimed.

“Every time my husband went to see (him), (he) would ask him to bring him at least two bottles of Tiger Beer. If not enough, (he) would ask him to give him money so that he could ask his daughter to go down to buy some more,” she said.

The woman told the court that she accompanied her husband to Wong’s house only once in December 2013. She alleged that on the day, Wong consumed alcohol for 15 minutes before he started performing tuina on her husband.

“This was what I saw with my eyes when I went that day. When you performed tuina you were also laughing very loudly,” she told Wong.

The woman said that her husband cried out in pain during the massage but Wong continued with the process. After the treatment, Wong placed a few medicinal plasters on the man.

The woman was also treated by Wong during that session as she mentioned that she felt pain in her left arm. After massaging the woman, Wong gave her the same medicine as her husband and said he would charge her $1,200 for additional sessions.

“I only had pain on my arm, but he wanted to treat me till I became a white-haired female demon. At that time he gave me a fright… I didn’t go back,” she said.

Wong stopped treating the man in February 2015, claiming that he was “already cured”, she added.

By then, her husband’s condition had worsened till he experienced blindness in his left eye and swelling in both legs, she said. The man visited the polyclinic in January 2015 and later had an eye operation at a hospital.

A Woodlands Polyclinic doctor also testified on Monday that the man, who had been visiting the polyclinic since 2008, stopped his visits between July 2013 and January 2015.

The doctor added that, without medication, the man’s condition would worsen – resulting in kidney problems, haemorrhages in the eyes, possible heart attacks or strokes.

Laboratory tests conducted by the HSA on the medicine that Wong allegedly gave to the man showed that one of the substances contained hydroxyzine, an ingredient listed as a scheduled poison in the Poisons Act. Hydroxyzine is an antihistamine that is used to treat allergies.

Wong’s trial will resume on Tuesday. If convicted on practising TCM while unqualified to do so, Wong may be jailed up to six months and/or fined a maximum $25,000.

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