Lucy Lum Chai See joined the University of Malaya, Department of Paediatrics in 1990. Assigned to the paediatric acute care ward, she recognised the need of acutely ill children and set to look after them even though resources were meagre, the resistance to expansion stiff and the doctors and nurses lacking in knowledge and skills. Pioneers of Paediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) were invited to Malaysia to begin PALS training. Over the next four years, Lucy and colleagues contributed to twenty-five consecutive training courses for >800 doctors and nurses in 12 of 13 states.
Her enthusiasm and perseverance saw her refining the management of severe dengue in children and other critical conditions. She underwent clinical-fellowship training in paediatric intensive care in The Hospital for Sick Children, in 1996. The Toronto and the North American experience shaped Lucy’s physiological approach to mechanical ventilation of healthy and sick lungs. She later became the first Malaysian to complete the Paediatric examination for the European Diploma in Intensive Care.
Back in Malaysia, the P1 Acute Care Ward was hit by a shortage of funding and support. Despite of the limited resources, the unit played a key role in defining the pathophysiology of EV71 outbreak which caused many deaths in 1997.
In 2001 the Hospital allowed a charity fund to be established. Soon after The Star highlighted the PICU work, generous support poured in through individual, public and corporate donations. Then UMMC eventually acknowledged the work and formed the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit. For the first time the PICU received a stronger allocation of nurses and budget needed to ensure the smooth delivery of intensive care for children.
Humanitarian medicine should not be a casualty of technology. Lucy is very much a hands-on bedside doctor. Her clinical rounds are characterised by both an incisive analysis of history, physical examinations and investigations as well as standing back to view the “Google map”. Doctors and nurses are trained not just to treat the disease, but to treat the patient as a human being connected to families and societies.
Her clinical expertise was sought after by WHO, and regional offices in the Western-Pacific Region where she has been to China, Laos, the Solomon Islands and Africa. She was invited by WHO/TDR to be the lead author of the handbook on clinical case management of dengue and by WPRO to design a training curriculum of dengue management. She was credited for bringing calm to a chaotic situation in the Solomon Islands, a poor nation of islands in the middle of the Pacific. Re-training doctors in basic clinical techniques which identify the high risk patients was her legacy.
She has managed to unify the various clinical departments in UMMC to work together so that dengue patients do not fall between the cracks. She collaborated with the various hospitals in Ministry of Health and WHO, Geneva, Oxford University, Brandeis University, and other universities in Singapore, SEAsia, Latin America and European Union. In the field of paediatric intensive care, she collaborates with colleagues in North America and around the world in pediatric sepsis, congenital diaphragmatic hernia and neonatal hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy.
Compassion has to be the driving force behind the otherwise just another slogan, “First, do no harm”. Through her inspirational leadership, the PICU which used to record high rates of nosocomial infections has been transformed into one with high rates of hand hygiene and low rates of infection. Yet, the work is not finished; her KPI (key performance index) for her staff is zero blood stream infection. Indeed this is possible.