Posted : 2013-04-25 20:55
Updated : 2013-04-25 20:55

Korean hospitals come to foreigners' rescue

Puntsag Khandsuren, left, a Mongolian patient who underwent knee replacement surgery here, poses with her two daughters living in Korea at Wellton Bone and Joint Hospital in Balsan-dong, western Seoul.
/ Courtesy of Wellton Bone and Joint Hospital

By Chung Ah-young

Puntsag Khandsuren, a 73-year-old Mongolian, couldn't walk even a few steps without a cane because of severe pain in her knees. She had serious arthritis who needed to use pain killers every day.

Khandsuren always stayed alone at home because she couldn't move by herself. She couldn't go to hospital because she lives in a small rural village two hours away from Ulaanbaatar, the country's capital; and also the cost discouraged her from even thinking of treatment.

But her suffering is now at an end after she underwent knee replacement surgery at the Wellton Bone and Joint Hospital in Balsan-dong, western Seoul. Now she can walk without a cane.

"I can't believe I can walk even just a few hours after the surgery," she said in an interview with The Korea Times.

Khandsuren undergoes a rehabilitation program at the hospital after the surgery under the Korean government's project "Medical Korea: We Share Hope," which supports foreign patients living in medically underdeveloped countries.

Khandsuren had the artificial joint replacement surgery on her right knee on April 11 and her left knee on April 17. She was picked as one of the beneficiaries of the government's project "Medical Korea: We Share Hope," which supports foreign patients living in medically underdeveloped countries.

Her two daughters live in Korea after marrying Korean men, and submitted their mother's name for the program.

"I have always worried about my mother's health condition because she is living alone in a rural area and I am here in Korea. Every time I called, I heard that she was severely suffering from knee pains," N. Oyun, her second daughter, said.

Oyun and her elder sister Undraa took care of their mother while interpreting the instructions of doctors and nurses from Korean to Mongolian.

Living in Korea for six years, Oyun said that she is pleased to take care of her mother and to see her walk. "I and my sister couldn't sleep well as we were anxious about our mother who couldn't move alone. But now we are happy and there are so many things she can do now after the surgery," she said.

"When my mother is discharged from the hospital, we will go outside to enjoy some cherry blossoms and go to the zoo, which we have never been to in our homeland. We can walk together," she said.

After the surgery, Khansuren will undergo a rehabilitation program, three hours a day, before her scheduled discharge on May 2. "Every day I feel better. The rehabilitation program is really helpful in recovering," she said.

Song Sang-ho, president of Wellton and the doctor who performed the surgery, said that she had been in a critical condition as her cartilage was severely injured. Without a cane, she couldn't move or sit or stand up without the help of others. "But the operation has been successful and we are expecting her quick recovery. Our medical team is making the best efforts to help her return to her normal life before her illness," he said.

Song explained that the quick recovery is attributed to a minimal incision in artificial joint surgery. The minimal incision is a state-of-the-art operating technique that uses an 8 to 10 centimeters or smaller incision, less than half that of the previous operations. The smaller incision leaves surrounding muscles and tendons less damaged, which enables the patient's fast recovery. By keeping muscles and tendons unscathed, patients can start rehabilitation as early as four hours after the operation.

The small incision also prevents possible weakening of muscle strength around the joint, improving the patient's ability to move. Song said that the early post-surgery walking also speeds up the patient's rehabilitation and at the same time reduces possible side effects caused by thrombotic varicose veins when they lie in bed for a long time or complications to the heart, lungs or digestive organs.

Oyun said that many Mongolians want to receive medical treatment in Korea, which boasts advanced medical techniques and high-technology services and facilities.

"When my mother is back to Mongolia, her neighbors will be curious about what kind of surgery she underwent. And that way, Korean medical services will be promoted. We are thankful for the program," she said.

Under the initiative, the government has provided healthcare charity programs since 2011.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korea Health Industry Development Institute have invited foreign patients from Cambodia, Mongolia, Russia, Vietnam, the CIS and Middle Eastern nations who have financial difficulty or lack the resources to receive medical treatment in their home countries.

Selected patients are covered for the cost of their surgery, their airfare and spending money during their stay in Korea.

Under the program, 32 patients from nine countries received medical treatment in 2011; and 67 patients from 17 countries in 2012.

Some 20 medical institutions including Seoul National University Hospital, Yonsei Severance Hospital and Konkuk University Hospital have participated in the program this year. A total of 38 patients from 13 countries including Mongolia, Russia and Myanmar have had treatments covering various illnesses from heart disease to arthritis.

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