Back To Top

Military under fire after soldier’s late treatment leaves him in coma

Corporal in coma, says family, but military officials say solider is in normal condition

The military has come under mounting criticism once again for failing to appropriately care for an enlisted soldier.

Corporal Kim Yoo-seung, who was stationed at an armored brigade in Pocheon, Gyeonggi Province, was transferred to a civilian hospital last Monday after belatedly finding out that he was suffering from scrub typhus, a mite-borne infectious disease that can potentially lead to death.

Kim first visited his army surgeon, who treated him only with medicine for stomachache and diarrhea, early this month. The 21-year-old corporal then had high fever, but was unable to get proper treatment at his base as its doctor was on holiday.

The doctor returned and raised the possibility that Kim may have scrub typhus, ordering an immediate transfer of Kim to a military hospital where he was confirmed to have the disease, but again was unable to treat him.

He was then moved to Asan Medical Center after the army asked Kim’s family which hospital the family would want Kim to be treated. The army did not fully inform them of Kim’s situation, only saying that his health condition was critical, according to Kim’s family.

Kim’s family said that the army called and left the responsibility up to the family to decide where he should be treated.

Kim is currently still in a coma, according to his family, relying on a respirator for breathing with liver and intestinal dysfunction.

“He has overcome a life-threatening situation, but is still in an unconscious state,” Kim’s mother told The Korea Herald.

Kim’s health has slightly improved; he woke up briefly on Thursday morning, but his reliance on a respirator may continue at least until this weekend, said the brigade’s quartermaster who has been at the hospital with the family.

However, an officer with ROK Fifth Corps, which commands the armored brigade, claimed that Kim was recovering, and breathing and communicating normally.

“The disease will not affect his life,” the officer told The Korea Herald.

A military spokesman said that it will watch over the corporal to make sure he fully recovers.

Kim’s doctor at Asan Medical Center could not be reached for comment. Asan said that it cannot disclose any of its patients’ personal health information to third parties including the media as part of its privacy protection policy.

The military has continuously been criticized for maintaining an out-of-date health-care system for its soldiers.

A number of soldiers have died due to the lack of proper medical infrastructure and doctors at military bases, said the Center for Military Human Rights.

“Military surgeons, as most commonly known, are people who had no proper experience as they are people who just graduated or took a temporary leave of absence from medical schools,” a Center official said.

“The military also has a lack of understanding of what a medical emergency is.”

Military surgeons are often referred to as “Dolpalri,” or ignorant practitioners in English, as they are known for not having the proper skills to treat soldiers, instead making them worse by giving them inappropriate medicine.

A soldier who had leukemia died while being constantly transferred to hospitals without treatment. Another soldier died last July after falling ill during a march, a few days after the Ministry of Defense announced plans for medical system improvement.

There are no official statistics to show the number of deaths due to the poor military medical system, said the Center.

The Center plans to draw one up after it requests documents from the National Assembly’s Defense Committee, which can demand the Ministry of Defense or the Joint Chiefs of Staff to hand over documents and files regarding the matter.

The Defense Committee also said that it does not hold any statistical data on soldiers’ fatality rate on weak military health system.

The defense agency rarely discloses any documents directly to private organizations due to national security, the official noted.

The defense ministry announced in July that it will improve its military health-care system for 2012-2016 by boosting preventive measures, accessibility to treatment centers, networks with civilian hospitals and increasing the number of doctors.

The agency plans to increase spending in 2013 -- 3.1 billion won ($2.8 million) from 1 billion won in 2012 to increase the number of doctors to 158 from 48. It will allocate 2.2 billion won from 800 million in 2012 to expand regular health checkups at all military bases nationwide.

However, observers said the problem will continue to exist as long as the army views soldiers not as human beings but as some sort of equipment for operations, which is attributable to accidents and deaths in the army.

By Park Hyong-ki

Corporal Kim Yoo-seung, stationed with an ROK armored brigade, lies comatose at Asan Medical Center. He was stricken by scrub typhus on Nov. 5. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
Corporal Kim Yoo-seung, stationed with an ROK armored brigade, lies comatose at Asan Medical Center. He was stricken by scrub typhus on Nov. 5. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

<관련 한글 기사>

군 엉터리 진료로 상병 중태

육군의 미숙한 대처로 인해 젊은 병사가 혼수상태에 빠지는 일이 발생하여 군에 대한 또다시 거센 비판이 예상된다.

경기 포천시 3739부대 1기갑여단에서 군복무 중인 김유승 상병은 11월 초 몸에 이상증세를 느껴 군의관을 찾았다. 당시 정형외과 의무중대장은 복통 설사 증상으로 소화제와 지사제를 처방했다.

열이 올라 다시 의무실로 찾아 갔지만 당시 내과 전공 군의관은 휴가 중이어서 진료를 못 받았다.

군의관은 휴가 복귀 후 김 상병 처음으로 진찰하면서 쯔쯔가무시병일 가능성을 제기했다.

김 상병의 증세가 악화 되면서 국군병원으로 급히 이송됐다. 이 곳에서 혈액검사를 통해 쯔쯔가무시병 확진 받았다. 이 병원에서 진료를 못해 군은 김 상병 가족에 연락한 후 지난 월요일 가족이 선택한 서울 아산병원으로 이송됐다. 그 당시 군은 김상병의 병에 대해 정확히 전달을 안하고 단지 위태로운 상황이라고만 했다고 가족은 말했다.

김 상병 가족은 큰 고비를 넘겼다고 하지만 아직까지 혼수상태에 있고 간, 장기능이 상한 상태에 있다고 했다.

1기갑여단 군 관계자는 김 상병의 상태는 약간 좋아졌다고 하면서 최소 주말까지 인공호흡기 의존을 해야 될 것 같다고 했다.

1기갑여단의 상급부대인 5군단 군 관계자는 김 상병은 지금 회복 중이며 호흡 그리고 의사 표현하는데 있어서 정상을 찾았다고 했다.

육군은 김 상병의 상태에 대해 지속적으로 관심을 갖고 완쾌할 수 있도록 최선을 다하겠다고 했다. (박형기 기자)

Korea Herald Youtube