In South Korea, sufferers pay for a star plastic surgeon — and get operated by a ghost physician
“Are you the brother of Mr. Kwon Dae-hee?” the caller requested. “Your brother is within the ER. May you come to (the hospital) now?”
His brother’s situation “wasn’t that critical,” the hospital mentioned. Kwon assumed his brother had gotten right into a combat after consuming, and, as he took a taxi to the Seoul hospital, he ready to scold him for moving into bother.
However he by no means bought the possibility. When Kwon arrived, the 24-year-old was unconscious. After having a surgical procedure to make his jawline extra slender, his brother had bled a lot that the bandage round his face had turned purple.
Kwon by no means made it. He died in hospital seven weeks later.
Kwon’s household say he was the sufferer of a “ghost physician,” the title given to somebody who performs a surgical procedure one other surgeon was employed for when the affected person is underneath normal anesthetic.
Beneath South Korean legislation, somebody who orders or performs an unlicensed medical act is topic to a most punishment of 5 years in jail or a most nice of fifty million gained ($44,000). If a ghost surgical procedure is carried out by a licensed physician, that would result in fees of inflicting hurt or fraud. However these crimes are arduous to show — many substitute docs do not be aware down the work they’ve finished and lots of clinics haven’t got CCTV cameras. And even as soon as the instances get to court docket, ghost docs not often get heavy penalties, which emboldens clinics to proceed with the follow, legal professionals say.
However Kwon’s high-profile case has introduced renewed consideration to shadowy operators. His household aren’t solely bringing legal fees towards the docs concerned — they’re demanding authorized adjustments, too.
Kwon was a heat and humble college scholar, the form of son who cooked seaweed soup for his mom’s birthday, his household remembers. He was a high-achiever however was insecure about his appears to be like and believed cosmetic surgery might make him extra profitable, his brother mentioned.
In photographs taken shortly earlier than his loss of life, Kwon had digitally altered his face to have the form of pointy, V-like jaw seen on many Ok-pop idols.
Kwon’s elder brother and mom, Lee Na Geum, tried to speak him out of getting cosmetic surgery, however Kwon secretly booked into a well known clinic that specialised in jawline surgical procedures within the glitzy Seoul neighborhood of Gangnam, an space historically house to the nation’s greatest Ok-pop labels.
On September 8, 2016, a health care provider eliminated bone to alter the form of Kwon’s jawline, a well-liked surgical procedure in East Asia that often takes one to 2 hours. It price 6.5 million gained ($5,766), in keeping with his mom.
However Kwon’s operation didn’t go as deliberate.
After bleeding excessively, he was moved to hospital. At 9 a.m. the subsequent morning, the plastic surgeon who had operated on Kwon arrived on the hospital. He advised Kwon’s household that the process had gone as regular and even supplied CCTV footage of the working room to show it — one thing that is not required nationwide, however which some clinics do to extend belief. “I instantly felt that I wanted that proof,” mentioned Kwon’s mom, Lee.
Lee watched the CCTV footage from the working room 500 occasions, she says. The footage confirmed the surgical procedure began at 12:56 p.m. when the plastic surgeon started to chop Kwon’s jaw bone. Three nursing assistants have been additionally within the room.
After an hour, the plastic surgeon left, and one other physician entered the working room. The 2 entered and left the room, however for nearly half-hour, there was no physician within the working room in any respect, though nursing assistants have been current.
Lee noticed that though the surgeon Kwon employed reduce his jaw bones, he didn’t full the surgical procedure. A lot of remainder of the operation was finished by the opposite physician — a normal physician who didn’t have a cosmetic surgery license and who had not too long ago graduated from medical college, regardless of an commercial for the clinic explicitly saying that the top physician of the clinic would function from begin to end.
“My brother trusted in that principal physician, and that is why he determined to be operated on there,” Kwon Tae-hoon mentioned.
The surgical procedure lastly completed at 4:17 p.m., greater than three hours after it began, in keeping with the footage. Jaw surgical procedure often takes an hour-and-a-half or much less for an skilled physician, in keeping with Kim Seon-woong, the previous legislation director of the Korean Affiliation of Plastic Surgeons, who has run a cosmetic surgery clinic for 25 years.
After the surgical procedure, each Kwon’s docs went house, leaving nurses in cost as he misplaced blood. Lee mentioned she was shocked by the footage; as her son bled, assistants corrected their make-up or checked out their cellphones. In whole, they mopped the bloody ground 13 occasions. When medical professionals evaluated the footage, they discovered he had doubtless misplaced thrice as a lot blood as what the docs had mentioned.
“I do not suppose this ghost physician checked how a lot blood my son shed,” she added. “I used to be so indignant at that truth. Had simply one of many three docs checked how a lot he bled,” she mentioned, referring to the plastic surgeon, the ghost physician and the anesthetist, “however nobody did.”
Regardless of Kwon’s loss of life, the clinic stayed open and continued to advertize that it had gone 14 years and not using a affected person experiencing any accident. The clinic closed final yr. It’s unclear why.
A scarcity of legal guidelines
Kwon’s household needed to carry these accountable to account. However they quickly discovered the legal guidelines round ghost docs have been weak and incomplete.
One surgeon, who CNN agreed to not title as he feared that talking out might immediate authorized repercussions, mentioned he started working at one of many nation’s largest plastic surgical procedures in 2012. He now not works there, however is talking out as a result of he would not wish to stay with the guilt.
He mentioned he was typically requested to carry out surgical procedures for the principle physician, and described how substitutes waited in a basement till they have been known as to function on sufferers. These individuals weren’t listed as staff on the clinic’s web site, and the clinic introduced the surgical procedures as carried out by revered surgeons, he mentioned.
Lots of the face-shaping surgical procedures — just like the one Kwon had — have been carried out by substitutes, primarily dentists, on the clinic the place he labored, the surgeon mentioned.
Jo Elfving-Hwang, an affiliate professor of Korean Research on the College of Western Australia, mentioned high-profile surgeons typically use Ok-pop stars or celebrities to advertise their clinic. However throughout busy durations, some cannot take care of the quantity of sufferers, particularly as star docs additionally have to be obtainable for consultations with new prospects, mentioned Elfving-Hwang.
“That is the place these situations have arisen,” she mentioned.
Ghost docs are a method for clinics to maximise income by getting one other physician to cowl the star practitioner — even when it is not authorized. “I suppose the explanation why this follow is round is as a result of younger and inexperienced docs can get jobs and acquire expertise, and clinics can function at a decrease price by hiring them to carry out,” mentioned the unnamed plastic surgeon. “On this method, clinics can soak up extra sufferers and conduct extra surgical procedures.”
Sufferers might not be conscious they’ve been operated on by a ghost physician. Ghost docs could not be aware their involvement within the surgical procedure on medical charts, and lots of working rooms haven’t got cameras. That makes any cost troublesome to show, in keeping with Park Ho-kyun, a lawyer representing Kwon’s household.
If victims are conscious, they might be unwilling to return ahead, as they might really feel ashamed, Elfving-Hwang mentioned. If victims do take authorized instances, they typically settle out of court docket, which suggests signing a confidentiality clause in the event that they obtain compensation, in keeping with the unnamed plastic surgeon.
It is unclear what number of instances make it to court docket. However after instances are prosecuted in court docket, the Ministry of Well being and Welfare can impose further suspensions on docs. A complete of 28 administrative inclinations have been imposed on docs who ordered substituted surgical procedure from 2015 to 2019, in keeping with Ministry of Well being and Welfare knowledge supplied by ruling occasion lawmaker Kwon Chil-seung’s workplace. 5 misplaced their licenses, and the remaining had their licenses briefly suspended.
One physician who requested a nurse to carry out eyelid or nostril plastic surgical procedures at the least 90 occasions obtained solely a three-month suspension, in keeping with ruling occasion lawmaker Kwon Chil-seung’s workplace. One other physician who ordered a medical machine firm worker and a nurse to carry out at the least 58 surgical procedures on spinal disc sufferers bought a three-month suspension, the workplace added.
“There are ongoing efforts by lawmakers to strengthen the qualification of docs by revising the medical legislation and the Well being Ministry has agreed with the proposed payments,” Well being Ministry senior deputy director Park Jae-woo advised CNN this month. “Since ghost surgical procedure or substituted surgical procedure happens secretly, it is rather troublesome to search out out the statistics or the present state of affairs.”
Regardless of all that, Kwon’s household was decided to hunt justice. They launched a civil case towards the clinic, accusing it of negligence for failing to elucidate the hazards of the surgical procedure and failing to take correct measures to save lots of its affected person. In Might 2019, the household gained damages of $430 million Korean gained ($381,000) — primarily based on the idea that if Kwon had lived, he would have labored till aged 65, incomes the typical guide employee’s revenue.
The three docs concerned in Kwon’s case are actually dealing with legal fees of manslaughter throughout the course of their work, two docs and one nursing assistant face fees of an unlicensed medical act, and one physician faces a cost of violating medical legal guidelines by exaggerating in an commercial.
“Victims of medical accidents do not wish to file a lawsuit on the whole as a result of they understand how troublesome and difficult it may be,” Kwon’s mom mentioned. “However docs understand how arduous it’s to show that one thing went unsuitable (on account of a ghost physician performing the surgical procedure) so they freely inform victims to sue them. I heard this from many different victims I’ve met.”
Enhancing the foundations
Most days, Kwon’s mom stands outdoors South Korea’s grey parliament constructing in Seoul. She’s turn out to be a high-profile advocate for change within the business — she and her husband, who have been retired, moved to Seoul after their son’s loss of life to combat for justice.
Every day, she holds an indication demanding that authorities introduce a invoice mandating CCTV in operation rooms — a invoice that is turn out to be generally known as the “Kwon Dae-hee invoice.”
“I might not have been capable of reveal the reality about (my son’s case) with out the CCTV footage,” mentioned his mom, Lee.
She additionally needs docs to have their licenses completely revoked in the event that they commit sure crimes, resembling homicide or manslaughter.
There are others, too, who’re working towards change, together with a number of lawmakers who’re pushing to get CCTV cameras put in in working theaters.
In 2018, Gyeonggi province turned the primary to suit CCTV cameras in all government-run working rooms, however governor Lee Jae-myung needs them in all hospitals and clinics nationwide — to forestall towards ghost docs, and cease different medical malpractice, together with sexual assault underneath anesthetic.
“From the affected person’s viewpoint, there’s nearly no proof to show negligence by the hospital even when a lawsuit is filed,” his workplace mentioned in an announcement. “Putting in CCTV within the working room can at the least forestall inappropriate actions resembling substituted surgical procedure or sexual assault.”
Docs are against the payments, arguing they will not be capable of work as comfortably realizing they’re being watched, and claiming that the cameras would erode belief with sufferers — not construct it. The Korean Medical Affiliation has publicly opposed the proposed invoice mandating CCTV cameras, saying it’s an invasion of privateness and will result in docs shedding focus throughout surgical procedure.
On the March listening to, Choi Jae-hoon, a younger man in his 20s, mentioned he had adopted Kwon’s case since listening to about it from Dr Vendetta’s YouTube channel. “This may very well be my very own case, and that is why I care about this case,” he mentioned, explaining he was apprehensive about medical malpractice on the whole medication — not simply cosmetic surgery.
Jeong Seoung-eun, who has been coming to court docket since February 2020 to assist Kwon’s household, mentioned: “I wish to present my assist so my nation can turn out to be a greater one by correcting faults within the (medical) system.”