" I recommend a liver
transplant operation to him. Although he is a terminal liver
cirrhosis patient, he is only 37 and was never in coma nor
has he esophageal varicosity.¡± Upon the recommendation from
a physician in charge, my family headed for a well-known domestic
general hospital for a liver transplant operation. After a
series of test, doctors convinced us that the young, healthy
patient would get better soon after a transplant operation.
We were very fortunate to receive a donated liver in time
and set a date for an operation. We signed on a number of
agreements without any hesitation.
On February 21st, my son was
carried into an operating room with a hopeful and cheerful
smile on his face. When he was an outpatient last year, he
was healthy enough to go to work on and off. This healthy
condition seemed to promise a successful operation. After
a 20 hour of long operation, the doctor came out totally-exhausted,
saying that the patient¡¯s narrower biliary tract prolonged
the operation for two and a half more hours. As he added that
a 475g of donated right lobe was transplanted, I thought my
87kg son might need a 600g of lobe. Anyway, the operation
seemed to be a success and my son recovered consciousness
one hour after he was moved to the intensive care unit (ICU).
As my son showed a gesture of triumph, all family members
and relatives were relieved and delighted.
On February 26th, my son was moved to an aseptic room from
the ICU and was forced to start exercising. I believed his
hard struggle was a due process and wished him a quick recovery.
However, his condition deteriorated on the second day. An
acute rejection set in with a high fever of 40 degrees. Although
a rejection inhibitant lowered his fever, the resulting uremia
substantially weakened kidney function, leaving him totally
dependant on an artificial kidney 24 hours a day.
March 1st was Korea¡¯s national holiday and intestinal hemorrhage
made my son¡¯s condition very critical that day. As nurses
in chare all took a day off, only a number of assistant nurses
were on duty three times a day. Few doctors were in hospital.
Furthermore, remaining doctors had half-hearted, cold attitude.
The day passed by with only a limited number of medical staff
around my son. The successive 3rd and 4th were weekends that
added to my impatience. My son continued to complain of great
pain resulted from intestinal hemorrhage, but doctors and
nurses neglected his pain, saying it was a common reaction.
My daughter-in-law and I also asked him to stand it. Even
when I heard my son burst into tears in front of CAT scanner,
I could not imagine the immense pain that overwhelmed my son.
I cannot but cry out and deplore when I think of the great
pain that made a 37 year old man to weep bitterly. The intestinal
hemorrhage continued and my son had to receive more than 10
units of blood transfusion. He finally lost consciousness
and was moved to the ICU again. All available, state-of-the-art
medical devices failed to find exact reason and spot of hemorrhage.
He recovered consciousness on the second day but discharged
blood twice a day with a high fever. His consciousness was
also on and off. The reason of this was still not clear after
many tests. I started to get extremely uneasy and fretful.
I begged doctors to save my son who was on a respirator with
his arms and legs tightly tied to bed. He signaled his wife
to come closer but she could not go any nearer as he was inside
tightly sealed room that prevented possible infection. Visitors
were allowed twice a day for 30 minutes. We could see him
close only when he was carried to a testing room. I encouraged
him and told him to cheer up each time, hiding my sadness.
After moved to the ICU, he
suffered high fever nearly twice a day. Although the amount
of hemorrhage was reduced, the reason and the spot were still
unclear. I felt as if heavy stones were weighing on my chest.
The doctor in charge was fretting as well because the hemorrhage
could increase anytime. I went through long and gloomy days,
feeling completely lost.
How could this happen and why to me? My uneasiness and worries
turned into rages toward the hospital, as I believed the half-hearted
attitude of doctors resulted in the failure of finding reasons
of hemorrhage. However, this failure and indifference were
nothing new to the doctors. As the hospital was well known
for live transplant operations, some doctors performed five
times of operation per week and sometimes three times a day.
Doctors had only two to three hours of sleep per day. They
definitely did not have time to look for new medical information
or study new methods. Their patients were laboratory animals
and doctors depended only on old, outdated knowledge losing
sympathy and compassion. It was a scene of total despair.
On March 21, the 21st day of inner hemorrhage, the doctor
in charge left for an overseas medical conference. The reason
of hemorrhage was still not clear and my son was in a very
critical condition. How irresponsible the doctor was to leave
his patient in a serious condition for an overseas trip! In
addition, when her son was dying, throwing up blood, doctors
were very impatient with a crying, angry mother. The doctor
in charge came back four days later when my son got out of
breath with severely swollen stomach. The doctor guessed that
an abdominal operation of the previous day for liver biopsy,
was the reason for swollen stomach. My son underwent a second
abdominal operation at 1 AM on the 28th. After the operation,
doctors found inflammation near the end of his pancreas. The
doctors excused that they were unable to detect the inflammation
as it was only a theoretical possibility and no such case
had ever been reported. How can doctors think of this ridiculous
excuse? If the inflammation was ever written in medical books,
couldn¡¯t they find it earlier? What was the use of many tests
that finally drove my son into death?
As the inflammation thickened digestive fluid in pancreas,
the fluid damaged neighboring organs and made holes in large
intestine. This was the reason of internal hemorrhage. It
was difficult to understand that doctors were not able to
find the reason out of a series of blood tests. Even when
my son cried bitterly out of unbearable pains, doctors and
nurses blamed my son, saying he was exaggerating. Now, I do
not think I can ever forgive these doctors and nurses who
were indifferent to my son¡¯s pains and suffering. I deeply
deplore and regret that I gave him a record player, telling
him to listen to music to forget those pains. My son just
turned his face away. How silly and stupid I was to believe
that his pain could be relieved with just music! But my beloved
son did not even get angry with me and his wife. He just looked
at us with sympathetic eyes without saying anything. During
a month of hellish pains, my son may have rather wanted to
At 2 AM, three days after the second operation, all family
hurried into the ICU upon a call from the doctor in charge.
In fact, we had a last ray of hope. However, I was numb to
see several doctors. They were doing cardiopulmonary resuscitation
to bring back his weakening heartbeats into normal. Finally
my son was pronounced dead. I just stood still in the room
and could not do anything, not even crying. My son¡¯s body
was so miserable with tangled dirty hair and long, cracked
nails. I could not picture my son¡¯s healthy face from the
swollen face. My beloved son was lying dead on bed with his
body full of mars and bruises from numerous injection. His
body looked like a worn-out, discarded blanket. I am so sorry,
my beloved son. But I could not even have time to grieve over
his death. The living, remaining people were too cruel. They
asked my daughter-in-law and me to go out of the ICU as our
time was up. We had to hold his still-warm body, wrap it with
bed linen. We went down to a mortuary and put his body into
a fridger¡¯s drawer.
<The 37 years life of
He was the oldest son of my family and was a very playful
and lovely kid. Although he was not academically outstanding
to meet my snobbish expectation, he was the darling of his
friends and neighbors as he had an excellent sense of humor.
He majored in western paintings at college and ventured into
the unexplored territory of animation after graduation. He
did not smoke nor drink and was only deeply fallen into drawing.
In his high school senior year, a blood test found that he
was hepatitis b positive but I did not take the result seriously.
However, the level of liver enzyme soared to around 700 to
800, and the color of urine turned into dark brown five years
later. After hospitalized for a while, he came back home and
was on interferon treatment for two years. Later he moved
to Zeffix for another two years due to interferon resistance.
As the physician in charge convinced us that hepatitis b positive
patient can of course work, my son was very delighted and
continued to work hard. As he developed resistance to Zeffix
again from the fall of 1999, the level of liver GOT and GPT
raised to nearly 200 to 300. To make matters worse, I happened
to hear about a small, unproven health community and bought
different kinds of health foods from it. But my son could
not go on a normal diet after taking about 20 packs of so
called health food. He had to be hospitalized again two weeks
later and to take diuretics because of ascites. He underwent
two to three times of operations to remove water near pleura.
About 5g of protein came out of body as a result of renal
failure and a small amount of blood came out with urine. However,
he continued working on and off for another year as an outpatient
because kidney function was still normal.
Now I constantly suffer from
a heavy sense of guilt. I put my son into a cold, lifeless
transplant factory, blinded by rootless rumors and unfaithful
advertisement from TVs and newspapers. Waking up from the
lies of ¡°excellent, world-famous¡±, the level of Korea¡¯s transplant
was still in its infancy. My son also was a devoted husband
and faithfully supported his wife who studied abroad. He also
comforted me when I was down. K.Sun, my beloved son, do you
hear me and do you know how much I love you and miss you?
My life must have ended when you left me.
The doctor in charged convinced
us that he can live one more year if he did not go through
a transplant operation. In fact, he lied to us by reducing
the average life expectancy of patients with ascites, from
5 to one year. Now will the doctor take responsibilities of
my son¡¯s death? I may also have contributed to reducing my
son¡¯s life by agreeing to have an operation. Neither a doctor
in charge nor family members were able to be sure of the right
timing of operation then. I hope people will not be fooled
by irresponsible remarks and decisions of doctors later on.
They have such ridiculous, indifferent attitude of take it
or leave it. Patients can only be articles of consumption
that contribute to building doctors¡¯ experiences.
If my son lived another year,
he may have launched a new animation project in plan and may
have finalized other animation works as a famous animator.
He may have gone on a belated honeymoon and could have a baby.
Or at least, he could have some time to say good bye to family
members and friends.
Well, I cannot solely blame
doctors who do not respect human dignity. The bad Korean education
system gave birth to shallow doctors who prefer medical divisions
with less-hard working. In line with this, many hospitals
now suffer the lack of surgeons as the division requires a
great deal of hard works.
Some general hospitals owned
by private businesses are also prone to creating profits.
These owners pay cheap for doctors in order to increase margins
and this greedy attitude give doctors extremely hard times.
As the number of doctors and nurses continue to decrease,
medical staff cannot concentrate on their duties and grow
indifferent to their patients. For example, the doctors in
transplant team deal with outpatients, perform operations
and take care of hospitalized patients who had already taken
operations. As one person has the work loads of three persons,
they understandably do not have enough time to study. Luxurious
outlooks with poor facilities and this is the reality of Korean
general hospitals. Those surgeons may be another victims of
the inefficient, immoral medical and social structure.
Another problem is the receptive,
complacent Korean media that presents hospitals with exaggerated,
rootless hope and sentimental attitude. The media reported
that the success rate of liver transplant operation is nearly
85%, while that of failure is only close to 15%. In this report,
it failed to touch upon the sadness and despair of the failed
15%. It also neglected the fact that the 15% laid foundations
for the 85%. Now the media should restore fair perspective
and it should deal with the stories of failed cases along
with the success stories of liver transplant operation. This
unbiased attitude will certainly help viewers and readers
to better understand the reality.
The Korean government also
needs to establish a national hospital for organ transplants
and care about organ transplant patients as much as they do
for cancer patients. So far the government built Korea Cancer
Center Hospital and National Cancer Center. A state-owned
organ transplant hospital will provide good opportunities
for independent medical specialists to treat transplant patients.
This can contribute greatly to improving health of many patients
and also to further educating Korean surgeons to be world-renowned
doctors. Just like human history is the records of winners,
the media also focuses on success stories. But now it is time
to remember that any success came from numerous trial and
Mr. Hagiwara is a rather unknown
Japanese comedian who was also diagnosed with terminal liver
cancer. As Japanese doctors gave up on his treatment, his
colleagues collected about 550 million won in order to send
him to the U.S. for a better chance of operation. And he got
recovered and came back on stage after one year. This story
makes me pay great tribute to the Japanese medical society
for their honest and sincere attitude toward patients. The
level of Japanese medical care is far about than that of Korea,
but they honestly accepted current status. Unfortunately,
this is not the case of the Korean medical society. Even though
one patient passes away, a hospital can still earn good money.
The conservative, closed, authoritative Korean medical circle
is also corrupted with bureaucratic red tapes. Members do
not actively exchange information and are engaged in blind
competition to enhance the meaningless success rates. In addition,
many doctors do not have the courage and honesty to admit
that they are unable to perform certain operations.
Can my son live longer if I
took him to the U.S. for better operation? He had bright and
promising future and now he lies under cold ground. Look at
the saddened and dampened families, your wife and I. We desperately
miss you, my son. Please forgive me. You are always in my
heart and you know that, my dear son.