Seoul, South Korea – The condition of a North Korean soldier severely wounded by gunfire while escaping to South Korea is gradually improving after two surgeries but it’s too early to tell whether he makes a recovery, hospital officials said Saturday
While the soldier’s vital signs are stabilizing, he continues to remain unconscious and relying on a breathing machine. After consecutive surgeries to repair internal organ damage and other injuries, no further surgeries are planned as of yet, said Shin Mi-jeong, an official at the Ajou University Medical Center near Seoul.
The unarmed soldier, whose name and rank have not been disclosed, defected to the South on Monday by driving a military jeep near a line that divides the Koreas at the Joint Security Area and then rushing across it under a barrage of bullets.
While treating the wounds, surgeons removed dozens of parasites from the soldier’s ruptured small intestine, including presumed roundworms that were as long as 27 centimeters (10.6 inches), which may be reflective of poor nutrition and health in North Korea’s military. Doctors measured the soldier as being 1.7 meters (5.6 feet) tall, but weighing just 60 kilograms (132 pounds).
“I spent more than 20 years of experience as a surgeon, but I have not found parasites this big in the intestines of South Koreans,” Lee Cook-jong, who leads the soldier’s medical team, told reporters earlier this week.
Lee is a famous trauma specialist who was hailed as a hero in 2011 after conducting life-saving surgeries on the captain of a South Korean freighter ship who was shot during a rescue mission after being held by Somali pirates.