A former North Korean soldier was not expected to survive after he was shot at over 40 times while defecting.
Last month, Oh Chong Song, 24, abandoned his post and began to run towards South Korea. His fellow soldiers shot at him, wounding him at least five times. South Korean soldiers were able to crawl to the area where he lay and rescue the man and he was transported to a hospital in a helicopter belonging to the United Nations Command.
Both Oh’s escape and his retrieval by South Korean soldiers were caught on camera.
As more details of the dramatic rescue arose, those involved called his survival a “miracle.”
Sgt. 1st Class Gopal Singh, a flight medic with the Eighth Army’s 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, told the Washington Post that after Oh was loaded into a Black Hawk helicopter, he immediately knew that the injured man “was probably going to die in the next 15 minutes.”
“I actually said a prayer because I saw the condition he was in,” Singh recalled. “The pilots could probably tell by my voice that he was in real danger of dying.”
Medical personnel at the Joint Security Area stopped the bleeding from the gunshot wounds, all of which were concentrated in his chest, abdomen, and shoulder.
When Singh reached Oh, he performed a needle chest compression to fight the air that was building up in the chest cavity. Had Singh not removed the air, Oh would have died.
Nathan Gumm, who helped pilot the helicopter with Eric Tirro, and Spc. Carroll Moore, the crew chief explained what it was like to witness Singh’s efforts. Gumm said it was “difficult” because he could “hear the level of concern” in Singh’s voice. Moore called the moment “intense” as Singh worked “nonstop for 20-plus minutes” to help ensure Oh’s survival.
With the high stakes in their minds, the helicopter arrived at Ajou University Hospital, where the patient was passed on to the care of trauma surgeon Lee Cook-Jong. The surgeon said that if not for their efforts, Oh would “would have died before arriving at the hospital.”
“It’s truly a miracle. From the time that I saw him on the aircraft, I thought he was going to die,” Singh said.
It was Singh’s final month in both South Korea and the Army.
Things didn’t get easier when Cook-Jong took over.
According to CNN, Cook-Jong noted that Oh’s vital signs were unstable and he was dying of low blood pressure and shock.
“He was like a broken jar. We couldn’t put enough blood into him,” he said.
The surgeon and others worked more than six hours to make sure Oh survived.
While in surgery, Cook-Jong made a disturbing discovery in Oh’s digestive tract.
There were parasitic worms, some over ten inches long, in Oh’s body. The worms, which have been discovered in other defectors, indicated the use of a detrimental, government-backed approach to health and agriculture in the country: night soil.
“Night soil” is a fertilizer made up of human excrement and used by North Korean farmers. There is a perception in the country that “night soil” makes food taste better and the method has even been personally supported by dictator Kim Jong-un himself.
The five-hour surgery consisted of removing a bullet, fixing a number of wounds caused by the bullet, and removing the parasitic worms that were making their way out of Oh’s body.
“In my over 20-year-long career as a surgeon, I have only seen something like this in a textbook,” Cook-Jong later said while explaining the flesh-colored parasites he found.
Cook-Jong also said that he feared his patient would die during the operation as his vital signs were unstable. But against all odds, he made it through the surgery alive.
“It’s a miracle that he survived,” the surgeon said.
In the weeks following, Cook-Jong praised Oh for taking on the dangerous task of running of escaping the country:
I’m very proud of him. He fled from North Korea seeking for liberty, much more freedom. It’s quite easy to say, but it’s really, really difficult to make it happen, so I admire him.
Oh is currently in stable, but grave condition. While he is able to move, speak, and use the bathroom on his own, it is believed that he is suffering post-traumatic stress disorder from his experiences.
Cook-Jong hung the flag of South Korea in Oh’s room so that when he woke from nightmares believing he was still in North Korea, he would be able to see that he was successful in his escape.
“He actually asked me, ‘is it really South Korea?’ And I said, ‘have a look at that flag. Have you ever seen that flag in North Korea?'”
The surgeon also explained that Oh was interested in studying law.
The events that transpired last month made Oh the third North Korean soldier to defect this year.