North Korea Soldier Wakes Up: Defector Has Hepatitis And Pneumonia, Requests South Korean Music

The North Korean soldier who defected to South Korea has woken up, and although it’s too early in his recovery for officials to interrogate him about his ordeal, they are comforting him with South Korean music and movies, Newsweek is reporting.

Just over a week ago, the man made international news when he became one of the few North Korean soldiers to have ever attempted to leave the secretive regime, let alone to have survived the treacherous journey across the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ). Suffering from multiple gunshot wounds, he was immediately taken to a South Korean hospital, where he was deemed to be in critical condition.

Although he is far from out of the woods, the man — believed to be an enlisted man in his early to middle 20s — is now breathing on his own, and he’s talking.

The first question he asked, perhaps not surprisingly, was whether he was in South Korea. Doctors assured him that he was. His next request was to listen to a South Korean song; music from the South is banned in North Korea, but South Korean soldiers at the DMZ often blast popular music over loudspeakers at the border, within earshot of their Northern counterparts.

Doctors honored his request, and then some: besides offering him music, they also played South Korean movies for him, and even hung a South Korean flag in his room, to assure him that he was safe.

“To give psychological comfort that he is in South Korea, the medical staff apparently placed the South Korean flag in the patient’s room and are also treating him through psychotherapy.”

Although he’s recovering, the soldier is a long way from being healthy enough to undergo an interrogation.

Even though he hasn’t spoken much, officials are piecing together a picture of the man’s life in North Korea, and what he went through during his defection, based on the illnesses and injuries he brought with him.

Perhaps most famously, the man was found to have multiple parasites in his stomach, the longest of which was 10 inches. Such parasites are unlike anything ever seen in South Korea. He also has hepatitis B, believed to be common in North Korea. Further, he has pneumonia and sepsis, diseases he’s believed to have picked up from infection from the gunshot wounds he suffered while fleeing the North. Because officials were unable to determine his blood type, he’s been transfused with the universal type-O blood. He’s been transfused with about 3.5 gallons so far.

“The defector is able to express his thoughts to medical staff. At this moment, we think that the patient has overcome a serious condition, [but] the defector is suffering from fear and heavy stress from the gunshots that wounded him.”

As of this writing, it is not clear when officials plan to debrief the North Korean soldier about his defection and about his life in North Korea.

[Featured Image by Ahn Young-joon/File/AP Images]