Trauma surgeon in the spotlight, both Koreas transfixed by ‘nice guy’ defector

by WorldTribune Staff, November 24, 2017

Pyongyang is said to have replaced all of the border guards, and likely punished their overseers, who were on duty when a North Korean soldier ran to freedom across the DMZ, intelligence sources say.

“Signs were detected that North Korea has replaced all border security officials following the defection,” the sources said, according to a Nov. 23 Yonhap report. “Given this situation, commanders of the responsible military unit and senior officers might have undergone punishment.”

Meanwhile South Koreans have been following the frequent updates on the young soldier’s recovery provided by a celebrated trauma surgeon, who received training in the United States.

Video footage of a North Korean’s dramatic dash to freedom

The intelligence sources Pyongyang appears to have temporarily closed the so-called 72-hour bridge over which the defector drove a jeep at high speed to reach the northern side of the Joint Security Area (JSA). The regime is also apparently tightening its screening of forces coming in and out of the DMZ.

The soldier was shot five times by his former comrades on Nov. 13 when he bolted across the heavily guarded inter-Korean border to defect.

The defector, known only by his family name Oh, has nightmares about being returned to the North, his surgeon said on Nov. 23, according to a Reuters report.

“He’s a pretty nice guy,” said lead surgeon John Cook-Jong Lee, who has been treating the 24-year-old.

Lee became a national hero in 2011 when he saved the life of a ship captain who had been shot by Somali pirates.

After pirates seized a chemical freighter near the Gulf of Aden in 2011, South Korean commandos stormed the ship and in the firefight that followed, the captain was shot six times.

Lee was standing by at a hospital in Oman, the captain survived and the reuslt was a popular medical drama, “Golden Time.”

The title referred to Lee’s motto that the hour after a severe injury that is critical.

Lee said Oh told him that he had joined the North Korean army when he was 17, right after secondary school graduation.

Medical teams have worked for days to remove the shards of at least four bullets from Oh’s body, stitch up his shredded organs, and treat pre-existing conditions including tuberculosis, hepatitis B, and a case of massive intestinal worms, Lee said.

“He’s a quite strong man,” said Lee. Lee said Oh has been watching the American TV series “CSI” and particularly enjoyed the action movie “The Transporter.”

The 48-year-old Lee, also known for working 36-hour shifts, is something of a national hero.

Educated in South Korea, Lee trained as a critical-care surgeon at the University of California at San Diego Medical Center in 2003. He then went on to the Royal London Hospital’s trauma center.

Back home, he realized that there was no equivalent facility at any hospital in South Korea and estimated that thousands of trauma patients were dying in the country each year because of treatment delays and a lack of dedicated trauma units.

He persuaded authorities to fund proper trauma centers, including his unit at Ajou University Hospital. Now, 20 percent of revenue from traffic fines goes to trauma centers in the country.

An American military helicopter took the defector to the Ajou University Hospital – which is equipped with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment and is used to treat VIP visitors such as visiting U.S. presidents.

On the flight in, American army flight medics had fought to keep Oh alive, jabbing a large needle into his chest to treat a collapsed lung, Lee said.

The medical team pumped as much as 12 litres of new blood into Oh’s body. The normal body has less than half as much blood.

“He told me that he is so thankful for South Koreans for saving his life and giving him that much blood,” Lee said.

The United Nations Command (UNC) said on Nov. 22 that North Korea clearly violated the 1953 Armistice Agreement twice when its border guards tried to hunt down the soldier fleeing to South Korea via the truce village of Panmunjom.

Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the UNC commander, awarded the Army Commendation medal to six U.S. and South Korean soldiers in recognition of their efforts to rescue the defector, according to the U.S. Forces Korea Facebook page.

Three members of South Korea’s JSA security battalion forces – a deputy commander and two noncommissioned officers – crawled on their stomachs to recover the wounded defector lying against a wall. Brooks said that the battalion personnel’s actions were appropriate.

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