Women’s surgery: A medical tourism success story

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Women’s surgery: A medical tourism success story

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Jasmine Sasha, left, weighed 220 kilograms. But she succeeded, right, in losing 65 kilograms over a four-month period after gastric surgery.


“I can now wear jeans and fasten my seat belt. I am so thankful for Korea.”

The thank-you message came from one of two women from New Zealand who received weight-loss operations in Korea early this year. The surgery, they said, saved their lives.

Jasmine Sasha, 26, from Whanganui, and Lynda Sim, 44, from Wellington, both received gastric surgery at Soon Chun Hyang University Hospital in Seoul in February.

Before receiving surgery, Sasha weighed 220 kilograms (485 pounds), and Sim 165 kilograms. For them, even walking was nearly impossible.

Four months after the surgery, however, Sasha lost 65 kilograms and Sim lost 40 kilograms. Their bodies gradually became lighter and they gained more confidence. With their improving health, they are now challenging themselves to lose up to 100 kilograms each.

Their travel to Korea for the weight-loss surgery was broadcast in New Zealand on June 29, during which a radio host said “The two women’s weight was each equivalent to the weight of two Paris Hiltons [the American celebrity].”

Sasha had been told she had diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. She needed to use a respirator while sleeping. She used to work as a caregiver for seniors and children, but because her health had deteriorated so badly she could no longer perform her job. Medical staff in New Zealand had said that in Sasha’s case, “blindness and paralysis is conceivable; and if she continues to live life like this, life beyond the next five years will be almost impossible.”

Sim’s health was also in a severe state. She was diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure and hypothyroidism. Her condition was so critical she had to take 20 pills a day. Even venturing out to her yard was a difficult task. Because of her state, she grew highly dependent on her wheelchair and she suffered from depression.

Sim wanted to get the surgery so that she could attend her son’s wedding. However, the surgery was prohibitively expensive - about $40,000 in New Zealand dollars ($33,000) - a cost way beyond her means.

But then, Korea arrived as a savior. The Korea Tourism Organization, a government agency dedicated to promoting its health-care system abroad, sponsored the whole trip - the surgery, hospital and travel expenses and a tour - along with KMI International, a group that promotes Korea’s health-care system internationally.

“A doctor from New Zealand recommended it,” said Sim, talking about how she discovered Medical Korea, a medical tourism group. “After reading a Korean doctor’s dissertation, I even researched the hospital’s environment.”

The two women were asked whether they were hesitant about the program, Sasha said she certainly wasn’t, citing Korea’s reputable medical background. “The development in equipment and procedure level of Korea compared to New Zealand is incomparable. I also liked the free benefit.”

Dr. Kim Yong-jin performed the surgery. Beforehand, he told the women that 80 percent of their stomachs would be removed, in order to decrease the amount of food they could digest.

He said they would also receive dental and dermatology treatments, in addition to dietary guidance. “It was a live-saving surgery,” Kim said. “Even eating small meals will make them feel satisfied. In one year they can possibly lose 100 kilograms each.”

The two women now say they are extremely happy with the experience. Their high blood pressure and high cholesterol are in check, and their blood sugar levels have also diminished. Sasha talked about her new life with a smile on her face, “I have started to work again and I even have confidence in dating.”

They said the surgery not only presented them with new bodies, but also gave them new lifestyles.

The number of foreign patients visiting Korea for treatment increased last year by 36 percent to 82,000 patients over 2009, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.


By Park Yu-mi [enational@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]
65㎏ 뺀 재스민 “생큐 코리아 … 이제 연애할래요”
의료관광 유치 프로젝트 첫 혜택

“청바지를 입고 자동차 안전벨트도 멜 수 있게 됐어요. 한국이 너무 고마워요.”

 뉴질랜드의 두 여성은 한국이 새 삶을 안겨줬다며 이렇게 말했다. 비만으로 생명의 위협까지 받았던 두 여성은 이역만리 한국에서 치료를 받고 오뚝이처럼 일어났다. 뉴질랜드 왕가누이에 사는 재스민 샤샤(26·여)와 웰링턴에 사는 린다 심(44·여)의 스토리다. 샤샤와 심은 올 2월 서울 순천향대병원에서 위절제수술을 받았다. 당시 샤샤는 220㎏, 린다 심은 165㎏이었다. 거동조차 힘든 상태였다. 수술 후 4개월 만에 샤샤는 65㎏, 린다 심은 40㎏을 감량했다. 몸이 가벼워지자 자신감이 붙어 100㎏까지 빼겠다는 도전을 하고 있다.

 29일 이들의 ‘체중 감량사’가 뉴질랜드 현지 언론에 보도됐다. “둘이 합쳐 100㎏, 패리스 힐튼(할리우드 스타) 2명의 체중을 줄였다. 한국에서 삶이 바뀌는 수술을 받았다”고 언론은 소개했다.

 샤샤는 비만으로 당뇨와 고혈압·고지혈증을 앓았다. 잠잘 때는 인공호흡기를 착용했다. 노인과 아이들을 돌보는 일을 했지만 몸이 무거워 그만뒀다. 뉴질랜드 의료진은 “실명과 사지마비가 올 수 있고 5년을 더 살기 힘들다”고 진단했다.

 린다 심의 건강도 심각했다. 당뇨·고혈압, 갑상샘저하증 등으로 한 번에 20가지의 약을 먹었다. 마당에 나가는 것도 사치였다. 대부분 휠체어에 앉아 생활했고 우울증에 시달렸다. 린다 심은 ‘아들 결혼식 참석’이라는 소박한 꿈을 이루기 위해 수술을 결심했다. 하지만 수술비가 4만 뉴질랜드 달러(3500만원)나 돼 어려웠다. 그때 한국이 구세주로 나타났다. 한국관광공사가 ‘메디컬 코리아’의 우수성을 알려 세계적으로 급증하는 비만환자를 유치하기 위해 지난해 말부터 무료로 진행한 프로젝트(Weight Care Korea)의 첫 수혜자가 된 것이다. 이 프로젝트는 뉴질랜드에서 폭발적인 관심을 끌었다. 본지 기자와 통화에서 두 여성은 한국행을 결심한 데는 의료 수준에 대한 믿음이 결정적이었다고 말했다.

 -메디컬 코리아에 대한 신뢰를 갖게 된 계기는.

  “뉴질랜드 주치의가 추천했다. 한국 의사가 쓴 논문을 읽고 병원 환경까지 알아봤다.”(린다 심)

 -그래도 망설였을 수 있는데

 “장비와 시술 수준이 뉴질랜드와 비교할 수 없이 발달했다고 느꼈고, 무료 혜택이 좋았다.”(샤샤)

 수술은 순천향대병원 김용진(외과) 교수가 맡았다. 먹는 양을 근본적으로 줄이기 위해 위의 80%를 절제했다. 이들은 한국에서 자비로 치과와 피부과 진료까지 받고 뉴질랜드로 보름 만에 돌아갔다. 그리고 식이요법과 걷기운동 등을 병행해 기적을 이뤄냈다. 김 교수는 “생존을 위한(life-saving) 수술이었다. 음식을 적게 먹어도 포만감이 생겨 1년 안에 100㎏대로 감량할 수 있을 것”이라고 말했다.

 두 여성은 행복하다고 말한다. 고혈압과 고지혈증이 말끔히 나았고, 혈당 수치도 현저히 줄었다. 샤샤는 “일을 다시 시작했고 연애도 할 자신이 생겼다”며 웃었다. 한국관광공사 진수남 의료관광사업단장은 “메디컬 코리아의 힘을 보여준 대표적인 사례”라며 “한국의 고도비만 시술의 우수성은 많이 알리고 사후관리를 연계한 패키지 상품을 개발할 계획”이라고 말했다. 지난해 한국을 찾은 외국인 환자는 전년비 36% 증가한 8만2000명이다.

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