Probe into boy’s death reveals major emergency center flaws

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Probe into boy’s death reveals major emergency center flaws

The Health and Welfare Ministry’s investigation into 2-year-old Kim Min-geon’s death revealed shocking problems in Korea’s local emergency centers, trauma centers and patient transport system.

Kim was hit by a car Friday in Jeonju, North Jeolla, and died after 13 hospitals refused to operate on him, saying they lacked operating rooms or surgeons. Kim died during an operation at Ajou University Hospital in Suwon, Gyeonggi.

“The biggest failure lies with Chonbuk National University Hospital, whose doctors initially diagnosed the boy but later refused to do his operation,” said an official from the Health and Welfare Ministry, “followed by Cheonnam National University Hopital and Eulji General Hospital for turning down the boy.”

Chonbuk National University Hospital, a local emergency center, diagnosed the boy’s “open fracture in the left ankle,” saying it needed an urgent treatment. But the investigation revealed that Kim’s pelvis fracture, which led to severe bleeding and internal injuries in the lower abdomen, required treatment first to save Kim’s life.

Kim reportedly cried due to rectal pain while in the ambulance, which Lee Kuk-chong, head of trauma and acute care surgery at Ajou University Hospital, said was “a sign of internal injuries.” He added, “a pelvis fracture requires immediate treatment because it often leads to copious bleeding.”

The investigation revealed that the immediate cause of Kim’s death was bleeding and internal injuries to the rectum, bladder and urethra.

“Kim received an operation for his pelvis fracture after a computed tomography (CP) scan,” an official from the Chonbuk National University Hospital explained, but speculations remain at to whether the hospital appropriately treated the boy’s pelvis fracture and internal injuries.

“Chonbuk National University Hospital then contacted two trauma centers, Cheonnam National University Hopital and Eulji General Hospital, to request Kim’s operation,” an official from the Health and Welfare Ministry said, “both of which turned him down.”

Yet trauma centers were appointed to deliver trauma and acute care surgery for patients just like Kim. A total of nine trauma centers have opened since 2012 and eight others will be in operation by the year 2017. The government has funded the centers with a total of 200 billion won ($179.2 million) over the past three years, which also covers six helicopters for patient transport.

Kim, however, was transferred by helicopter from National 119 Rescue Services in Namyangju, Gyeonggi, because helicopter ambulances closer to Jeonju - one in Wanju, North Jeolla and another in Yongin, Geyonggi - said they could not transfer Kim.

“We need a minimum of four workers to operate a helicopter,” an official from North Jeolla Fire Headquarters said, “but we only had one person on night duty at the time.”

“It was late and we didn’t know much about North Jeolla’s geography because we hardly work there,” an official from the Gyeonggi Disaster and Safety Headquarters said. “The weather wasn’t helping, either. We could barely see 3.2 kilometers (1.99 miles) ahead.”

The helicopter that transferred Kim was delayed for roughly an hour due to slow communication with Chonbuk National University Hospital and the long distance to Ajou University Hospital. “The hospitals said they didn’t have doctors for the kind of surgery that he needed,” said Kim’s mother over the phone with the JoongAng Ilbo. She continued, “Please question the officials so that nobody has to experience the same thing my son did.”

BY SHIN SUNG-SIK [kim.yuna1@joongang.co.kr]

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