Energy heir helps poor obtain medical access

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Energy heir helps poor obtain medical access

Lee Young-soo has flown to a number of countries over the past 15 years to provide free medical services to the poor.

Lee, who owns a small energy business, said she is often reminded of the significance of her mission by recalling her father’s last words: “It is very easy to help someone with money. Real service is to throw yourself in to help.”

Lee’s father passed away 35 years ago, though for her his words still live on.

The 63-year-old businesswoman has traveled around hundreds of refugee villages in more than 10 countries, including Ethiopia, Haiti, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, serving as the operation executive for the Korean Open Doctors Society, a medical service organization.

Lee is the youngest daughter of the late Lee Jong-yeop, the former chairman of KIOIL, a leading energy company in the 1970s.

Although her father made his fortune through the mining and oil businesses, he taught Lee and her seven other siblings the value of helping others through donations.

Lee’s mother, Kim Yong-chil, has donated a total of 1 billion won ($980,140) for the inpatients at Seoul National University Hospital.

“Overseas medical services are like a big gift box,” Lee said in a recent interview with the JoongAng Ilbo. “Just as you never know what’s in it before opening the box, you never know what will happen to you just before you meet the patients.

“This thrill and passion has kept me from frustration, despite the endemic diseases, odors and terror threats.”

Lee said she would never forget her first trip to Mongolia in the summer of 1999 and still vividly remembers the desperation in the eyes of the hundreds of Mongolian patients who flocked to a small and remote medical center.

“Unlike traveling for fun, it was a fresh experience to visit someone who needed me,” Lee said. “It has become a turning point in my life.”

She recalled a time last December when she was attempting to give a Nepalese woman acupuncture. It was just around Christmas time, she said, and it was difficult to remove the tiny needles from the soles of the woman’s feet because of her thick callouses - the result of living an entire life without shoes.

In the Philippines, she added, she met a man who had blood and pus running all over his foot from an infection. He had stepped on a nail and hadn’t been able to obtain proper medical care for months.

Lee, however, is not a medical professional, but she does help with simple emergency treatments. Some desperate patients even fly to see her in order to get treatment. And she does need protection from the police sometimes, she said.

Last week, Lee also published a compilation of written memos and pictures of her travels. She insists, “It’s not a memoir, just a midterm check-up for me.” She then produced an itinerary for yet another trip scheduled in the fall.


BY LEE YOUNG-JONG [ssh@joongang.co.kr]

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