The wounded deserter from North Korea is “a good guy”, says the surgeon


SEOUL (Reuters) – The last defector from North Korea, a young soldier known only by his surname Oh, is a quiet and pleasant man who has nightmares about being returned to the north, his surgeon said on Thursday.

Lee Cook-jong, a South Korean surgeon who operated the defending North Korean soldier with gunfire, speaks during an interview with Reuters at a hospital in Suwon, South Korea, on November 23, 2017. REUTERS / Yang Hee-kyong [19659003] "He's a very nice guy," said lead surgeon John Cook-Jong Lee, who has been operating and caring for the 24-year-old. Oh has become a focus of global attention after being seriously wounded by other North Korean soldiers as he crossed the border in the demilitarized zone that separates the north and the south on November 13.

Video of the escape from Oh released on Wednesday showed him stumbling across the border and being dragged unconscious through the undergrowth by South Korean troops.

Surgeon Lee has been almost the only person who has spoken with Oh since arriving at the hospital, he told Reuters in an interview at his office at Ajou University Hospital, a few plants from where the defector is guarded by the South Korean. special forces and intelligence officers.

The surgeon, who hung a South Korean flag in the soldier's room, said he was avoiding issues that might annoy his patient. Oh he's eating his first "clear liquid" food as broths, and he can smile, talk and use his hands, Lee said. But when his patient woke up on Sunday, he cried out in pain and Lee said he was still anxious about the South Korean guards.

Lee said that Oh told him that he had joined the North Korean army when he was 17, right after graduating from high school. The soldier's hair has the style "like a sailor, like a US marine, so I actually joked, why do not you join the South Korean marines?" He smiled and said that I would never go back to the military system. "

Medical teams have worked for days to remove fragments of at least four bullets from Oh's body, sew up their shredded organs and treat pre-existing conditions such as tuberculosis, hepatitis B and a case of mbadive intestinal worms, Lee said. .

"He's a pretty strong man," Lee said.

Since Oh's defection, North Korea appears to have replaced all of its security guards on the border, an intelligence source in the south told the Yonhap news agency on Thursday.


Lee said that when the defector came to a US military helicopter at the hospital, he is equipped with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment and used to treat VIP visitors, such as visiting American presidents. the country, came with zero personal information.

On the incoming flight, the US Army flight doctors had struggled to keep Oh alive by sticking a large needle in his chest to treat a collapsed lung.

Lee Cook-jong, a South Korean surgeon who operated the defending North Korean soldier with gunfire, speaks during an interview with Reuters at a hospital in Suwon, South Korea, on November 23, 2017. REUTERS / Yang Hee-kyong [19659015] Oh was immediately taken to a diagnostic room where the doctors confirmed that he was suffering from mbadive internal hemorrhage. "We knew then that we did not have time to doubt," Lee said, standing in that room Thursday night.

It took two major surgeries to remove the bullets and patch Oh again, and the medical team pumped up to 12 liters of new blood into his body. The normal body has less than half the blood.

"He told me that he is very grateful to the South Koreans for saving his life and giving him so much blood," Lee said.

Lee has been playing South Korean pop music and American movies and TV shows for his patient, but has not exposed him to any news coverage.

Among the shows, Oh showed sympathy for the Franco-American thriller "Transporter 3," the comedy "Bruce Almighty," starring Jim Carrey and Morgan Freeman; and the crime-solving television series "CSI," Lee said.


The majority of North Korean defectors are subjected to security interrogations by the South Korean intelligence agency once they arrive in the south before being sent to a resettlement center for a three-month education about the life in the south. After being released, central and local governments grant 7 million won ($ 6,450) in cash for a year, as well as support in housing, education and job training.

Police officers are badigned to each of the defectors to ensure their safety and protection.

Even if Oh recovers completely, some scars will remain for the rest of his life, the surgeon said.

Among the most lasting injuries is the damage to his colon, which was crushed by a bullet and had to be sewn back into seven places. "It's a lifelong complication for the patient, so it's best to be very cautious in your diet," said the surgeon.

In addition to the possibility of additional medical complications, Lee says he is more concerned with making sure Oh recovers psychologically. The soldier already told him that he had a nightmare about his return to the north.

The surgeon said he had asked senior South Korean military officials to be eager to question the soldier to wait while he recovers.

"This North Korean guy is not going anywhere," Lee said. "He is staying in South Korea, so we do not need to hurry."

Additional reports by Soyoung Kim; Edited by Sara Ledwith

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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