Kang Dae-gun, an 82-year-old dentist, has been honored for his dedicated service to patients with Hansen’s disease for the last 33 years.
The retiring dentist first began helping Hansen’s patients in 1979, but decided to stop offering his services early this year, considering his health and age.
A group of patients and supporters gathered at his clinic in Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, on Monday and held a small party to thank him for what he has done for more than 30 years.
Attendees included Emma Freisinger, an Austrian nurse who has been working with Koreans with Hansen’s disease, and Catholic priest Kim Deuk-kwon, who has supported Kang for many years.
|Kang Dae-gun (right) poses with Emma Freisinger at his clinic in Seoul on Monday after receiving a plaque of appreciation from Hansen’s patients. (Yonhap News)|
“Kang never wanted to let others know about his service and refused to take any awards or prizes that were offered to him from many organizations. But we have decided to hold this event to honor him and give inspiration to the younger generation with this life-long work he has done,” Kim said.
Kang started to help people with Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy, after he witnessed them being rejected by society. He wanted to help patients who suffered from social prejudice, he said. He was 49 then.
“I saw a leprosy patient kicked out from a dental hospital although he went there for treatment. The staff in the clinic even threw money at his face and urged him not to come again. I felt that was not right,” he told The Korea Herald.
Every Sunday for 33 years, Kang visited villages around the country where the socially ignored leprosy patients settled down. He has treated about 15,000 patients for free, said the Archdiocese of Seoul which supported his volunteer work.
Extracting teeth was what Kang did for the first three years. But soon the dentist started to produce dentures for them. Many had already lost their teeth because of a lack of access to proper treatment, Kang said.
“Patients were filled with anger against society and they were also suspicious about why we were helping them medically and for what purpose,” he said.
In the first few years, he didn’t tell his family about what he was doing each Sunday.
“I knew that they would strongly oppose my work. They didn’t know where I was going,” he said.
Kang, a devout Catholic, also offered dental services to many others. From priests to students from low-income families, he provided free check-ups for many charity organizations and treated disadvantaged people at his own clinic.
The retiring dentist urged the young generation to help AIDS patients with proper medical service.
“Today, the number of leprosy patients has dropped significantly. But there should be help for a growing number of AIDS patients,” Kang said.
By Cho Chung-un (firstname.lastname@example.org