Foreign doctors, military guards: Bespoke care for North Korea's Kims

Wed Oct 1, 2014 5:14pm EDT
 
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By James Pearson

SEOUL (Reuters) - In 1993, French neurosurgeon Francois-Xavier Roux received a phone call in Paris from an unidentified North Korean official. The then leader-in-waiting, Kim Jong Il, had suffered a head injury from horse-riding accident and they wanted his advice.

Fifteen years later the North Koreans contacted him again. This time, it was more urgent. They flew Roux out to Pyongyang in an operation so secret Roux himself was unaware who his patient would be until he met a frail Kim Jong Il lying in a modern intensive care bed flanked by his doctors.

"They were visibly anxious about the situation – maybe that's why they asked for a foreign doctor, since I had no problem asking Kim Jong Il questions, or telling him what to do," said Roux, who also met a young Kim Jong Un, whom he said appeared moved by his father's deteriorating health.

State media acknowledged for the first time last month that Kim Jong Un, who assumed power in North Korea when his father died in 2011, was suffering from "discomfort" due to unspecified health reasons, prompting speculation over what ails him.

North Korea, founded by the young Kim's grandfather when a post-Japanese colonized Korean peninsula was divided into North and South in 1945, is a hereditary dictatorship - making the health of its leaders an especially sensitive subject.

Kim, who is 31 and frequently the centerpiece of the state propaganda machine, has not been photographed by official media since appearing at a concert alongside his wife on September 3. Footage from an event with key officials in July showed him walking with a limp.

The time Roux spent in Pyongyang treating Kim Jong Il gives him a near-unparalleled insight for a Westerner into the medical facilities enjoyed by the isolated country's ruling family.

"The local doctors were quite competent, and during the discussions I had with them, it was exactly as if I was talking to European doctors. They were at the same medical level as I was," he told Reuters by phone from Paris. "They had almost everything. They had very good facilities."   Continued...

 
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends sports and cultural events being held to mark the completion of the remodelling of Songdowon International Children's camp in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang May 3, 2014. REUTERS/KCNA