중앙데일리

A surgeon’s knife cuts away sadness

Impoverished patients find a new life

Apr 09,2007
Han Sung-ik.
Plastic surgeon Han Sung-ik, 48, performs reconstructive surgery for the poor, and he only charges 10,000 won ($9.80). Han recently published a book, “Ten Thousand Won’s Surgery, Ten Thousand Won’s Happiness,” describing how he met poor people with facial deformities and ended up doing surgery for them. The JoongAng Ilbo interviewed Han at his hospital in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul.
The pre-operative photographs of his patients, which are not included in the book, were beyond imagination. There was a woman whose eye sockets had been covered in skin; a man had a tiny chunk of flesh instead of an ear; another had a hole in the ceiling of his mouth and no eye on one side ― when he drank water, the water came out of the socket where his eye was missing; and a boy had one eye higher than the other.
“You probably haven’t seen these kinds of people before,” Han said. “There are many of them. One in 30 people in Korea have deformities. They aren’t visible because they don’t come out.”
Han said the biggest problem is that they live with a broken heart.
“Those with facial deformities suffer harassment by other people from childhood,” he said. “This makes it even more difficult for them to adjust. It also makes them vulnerable to violence. Thus they are often depressed, sometimes suicidal.”
“Japan is notorious for ijime, or bullying, but the Japanese do not discriminate against the handicapped as much as Koreans do. Germany is particularly considerate toward disabled people. Money does not make a country a developed nation,” he said.
Covering a hole in someone’s mouth with artificial bone, making an eye or ear for those without one and readjusting the cranial bone for someone who has a broken palate are some of Han’s jobs. Before he became a plastic surgeon, he graduated from dentistry and medical school and received his doctoral degree as a plastic surgeon at the University of Hamburg.
“Everybody has different standards, and even plastic surgery can lead to complaints from patients. But if I make an eye for someone who doesn’t have one, people always say nice things about it,” Han said.
Han does not like normal people getting plastic surgery just to look prettier.
When people like that want plastic surgery, Han sends them away, saying they are pretty enough. Rumors about Han doing surgeries for 10,000 won spread. Now there are people who come in with a certificate stating they are poor, asking for surgery. Han shows them pictures of those with real facial deformities.
After the hospital opened in 2000, he began performing surgeries for less privileged people who were referred by churches and district offices. He was saddened by the fact that it costs tens of millions of won to get reconstructive surgery, because plastic surgery is not covered by insurance, and thus poor people cannot afford to have such surgery.
He later realized that making the procedures free hurt his patients’ self-esteem and, after much thought, he decided to charge 10,000 won. The 10,000 won gave his patients a good feeling and helped make them pursue treatment until it is complete. Before doing a surgery, Han also asks his patients to sign a memorandum of understanding that they will help other poor people if they accumulate wealth.
Han said, however, that he does not charge patients from Mongolia, because 10,000 won is a lot of money for them. He has now performed reconstructive surgeries for over 100 people, and many of his colleagues and sponsors have helped him.
“This is not a sacrifice, but I like doing it. This is something I can do as a doctor,” Han said.


By Lee Kyong-hee JoongAng Ilbo [jbiz91@joongang.co.kr]


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