Case of Kwon Dae Hee
By: Ruhika Dhamani
At around 23:30, a call is made to the emergency room where a plastic surgeon says something along the lines of " hey, listen so we have a 24-year-old male patient who has slightly low blood pressure, but he's still conscious … he can talk to us and all but just to be safe we'll send him over maybe he might need a blood transfusion". This wouldn't strike many as something concerning, the call seems relatively reassuring, and it might even lead some to believe that this was a great plastic surgeon who highly valued his patients well being. However, an issue arises when this patient is rolled into the emergency room and it sends doctors and nurses into a frenzy. They're scrambling trying to do the best they can to save this young man's life. If you're confused as to what was going on when the plastic surgeon had just said that the patient was doing fine, this is what happened. On a Friday night, Kwon Dae Hee was rolled into the emergency room where his heart had stopped beating for two minutes and he was missing two-thirds of his blood supply.
This is one of many cases of a ghost doctor's operation. The term ghost doctor essentially refers to someone who performs a surgery that another surgeon was hired for, while the patient is under anaesthetic. This unfortunately happens all around the world, especially in places that are known for their medical tourism. It is a known fact that if someone were to settle on getting any surgery, especially a cosmetic one, they would look for the best and most reliable doctors. However many of these doctors want to do as much as they possibly can to earn the most amount of money, which is how a situation involving a ghost doctor would typically work. The desired doctor would sit their patient down for the various consultations leading up to their surgery, since it is what makes the most money, reassuring them that it would be a simple, risk-free procedure. On the actual day of the surgery, the expected surgeon will step into the surgery room for a few minutes, and then leave. A ghost doctor will then fill in for this surgeon and perform the rest of the procedure, sometimes getting checked up on by the initial surgeon. The initial surgeon will then be hopping from different surgeries to different consultations. Although this may not seem ideal, some might still believe that there is nothing highly concerning about this since the so-called ghost doctor is probably a surgeon as well; this is where the real issue stems from. In order to make as much profit as they can, these doctors avoid hiring other well-trained professionals for the procedures, since they would be too expensive. They rely on newly qualified personnel, such as freshly graduated surgeons, dentists, nurses and even medical equipment salespeople.
Now, let's dive deeper into what actually happened to Kwon Dae Hee. Kwon was an outgoing, humble university student who was said to have a good relationship with his family. Once he was nearing his graduation date, he knew that he would be applying for a job soon, so before he did, he wanted to get some work done on his face. To those who might be unaware of Korean beauty standards, it is said that many executives will refrain from hiring individuals who don't fit the beauty standards, so much so that a common gift for new graduates is indeed plastic surgery. Kwon was dead set on getting his jaw slimmed, for it to have a more pointed look, since not only had this been an insecurity of his, but it is alleged that he was made fun of for this specific reason.
Kwon Dae Hee had booked a surgery in a well-known clinic, despite his family members urging him against it. Due to the fact that this was a very well-known clinic, there was an exponentially long waitlist, even more so for Kwon since he opted for the best surgeon available. This surgeon had various consultations with him before the day of the procedure and reassured him that it would be a very quick and simple procedure, as what they would essentially be doing was peeling off some skin and grating the bone underneath, and placing the skin back where it used to be once they were done. Additionally, the surgeon did not fail to mention various times that this would be an extremely low-risk procedure. Things did not go as planned.
On September 8th, 2016, the call to the emergency room was made that same night Kwon Dae Hee was officially declared brain dead. The next morning, his family members were called alongside the plastic surgeons who operated on Kwon. What brought up slight public outrage was how Kwon Tae Hoon, Kwon Dae Hee's brother was made aware of the situation; the hospital informed the brother that Kwon was in the hospital, but his condition was not too serious. This then led the brother to simply assume that Kwon had gotten into a bar fight of some sort. Whilst getting into the taxi on the way to the hospital, he was ready to give his little brother a lecture questioning why he was getting into bar fights and ending up in the emergency room. Yet the most heartbreaking part of this whole situation is that his brother never had the chance to scold his brother, let alone talk to him. As soon as the family arrived at the hospital they were informed of what was actually going on. They were all in disbelief as to how such a simple procedure had led to their beloved son and brother being declared brain dead in the hospital. Kwon's mother was rightfully upset at the surgeons and was offered the CCTV tapes from the surgery room, she had a feeling that they would provide something useful and she was correct.
After spending countless hours going frame by frame through the whole footage she pinpointed everything which did not add up with the surgery report that she was also provided with. The timeline for the surgery is as follows:
At 1 pm the surgeon who had been leading the consultations with Kwon enters the operating room and begins the surgery about an hour later he is seen leaving. A few moments later, about a minute later, a new random doctor walks in; this 'doctor' wasn't on any of the records for the surgery thus being the ghost doctor for this case. This 'doctor' then works on the patient for about 30 minutes and is then joined by the designated surgeon. Together they continue working on Kwon for another 30 minutes, by now it's been about two hours. At this point, both doctors are seen leaving the OR leaving Kwon unmonitored for about an hour. By the time it's 4 pm, the ghost walks back into the OR and continues with the procedure; it is speculated that the hour or so when both doctors had left, they were allegedly taking a lunch break. After finishing up his job the ghost doctor is seen leaving and the designated surgeon makes a final appearance to stitch up Kwon and the surgery is completed.
The timeline is already concerning enough but what happened after the procedure is what really led to the passing of Kwon Dae Hee. At around 7:30 pm, Kwon was moved to a recovery room where he was accompanied by a nursing assistant, the footage found that during this time when Kwon should have been monitored whilst the anaesthesia wore off the nursing assistants were busy on their phones, touching up their make-up and chatting, essentially the patient was not being looked after at all. Meanwhile, there is blood actively dripping from Kwon's jaw, instead of the nursing assistants calling a medical professional such as the surgeon or maybe even the anesthesiologist they decide to mop the blood and proceed with their leisure activities, this event repeated itself not once or twice, the nurses mopped up Kwon's blood a total of 13 times. Eventually, after a few hours, Kwon still hasn't gained consciousness and the anesthesiologist walks into the recovery room to check up on him; it is important to keep in mind that by now the actual surgeons operating on Kwon had clocked out and gone home for the day. Once the anesthesiologist asks why Kwon hasn't woken up yet and if anything alarming happened the nurses nonchalantly mention the blood that had been dripping from his jaw. This is when the anesthesiologist begins to panic, in hopes of saving Kwon's life he tries to find a vein into which blood can be inserted, since by now he has lost an alarming amount of blood; keeping this in mind the anesthesiologist was unable to locate a vein due to the sole fact that they had shrunk as a result of the copious amounts of blood lost. Finally panic begins to set n for everyone in the room with Kwon so the doctors who operated on him were called, they knew that it was their fault that Kwon was now in critical condition but they decided to call the emergency room and make it seem as if this whole situation hadn't been their fault; fully expecting Kwon to make a full recovery.
With everything stated above Kwon Dae Hee's mother, Lee Na-Geum filed a lawsuit in May of 2019 and won 381,000 dollars but she was still rightfully angry about what had happened so she decided to spend countless days if not months outside the parliament of Korea, advocating for CCTV to be installed in operating rooms. Finally, on August 31st of 2021, the Kwon Dae Hee bill was passed in Korea which required CCTV cameras to be present in all operating rooms. Initially when this bill was still being debated many medical professionals advocated against it, stating that it would make patients uncomfortable and in emergency rooms, it would impede medical professionals from being able to go all in to save individuals' lives; this then caused public discontent with many netizens saying that they didn't mind at all having cameras whilst being operated and it also led them to question why having cameras in emergency rooms, keep medical professionals from saving lives.