24-Year-Old Dies After ‘Ghost Surgeon’ Illegally Alters Jaw To Look Like K-Pop Star
A 24-year-old man died in hospital after a ‘ghost doctor’ illegally performed a surgery to make his jawline look more slender.
Kwon Dae-hee, a university student described as a high-achiever, passed away after undergoing the surgery in 2016. His family had attempted to prevent him from having the procedure, but the 24-year-old was insecure about his looks and reportedly believed plastic surgery could make him more successful.
In the time before his death, Kwon had used digital editing to alter his face in photos, giving himself a pointy, V-like jaw similar to many K-pop idols. Without telling his family, he also booked into a clinic that specialised in jawline surgeries in the Seoul neighborhood of Gangnam, South Korea, an area traditionally home to the country’s biggest K-pop labels.
A popular procedure in East Asia, the surgery cost 6.5 million won ($5,766) and involves removing a bone from the jaw to change the shape of the jawline.
The operation took place on September 8, 2016, but in the midst of the proceedings, the plastic surgeon who initially began cutting into Kwon’s jawline left the room and was replaced by a ghost doctor; someone who performs a surgery that another doctor was hired to do while the patient is under general anesthetic.
The practice is illegal in South Korea, CNN reports, but weak regulations in the country have allowed the clinics – where surgeons are replaced by unqualified staff – to thrive.
In the hours after Kwon’s operation he was bleeding excessively, so according to call records cited by CNN the clinic called an emergency number and an ambulance arrived to take Kwon to a university hospital. Seven weeks later, he passed away.
After he was initially admitted to hospital, Kwon’s family was called and arrived at the hospital to meet the plastic surgeon hired to operate on the 24-year-old. He told the family that the procedure had gone as planned and offered CCTV footage of the operating room to prove it. His mother, Lee, said she ‘immediately felt that [she] needed that evidence’.
After watching the footage hundreds of times, Lee saw that although the surgeon Kwon hired did cut his jaw bones, he did not complete the surgery, much of which was done by the other doctor. They were a general doctor who did not have a plastic surgery license and who had recently graduated from medical school.
The decision to switch doctors was at odds with an advertisement for the clinic, which stated that the head doctor would operate from start to finish.
The surgery took more than an hour and a half longer than it would have with an experienced doctor, and after it was complete both of the doctors went home, leaving nurses in charge while Kwon bled. In the CCTV footage, Lee said she watched assistants correct their makeup or look at their phones in between mopping the bloody floor around Kwon’s bed 13 times.
The mother commented, ‘I don’t think this ghost doctor checked how much blood my son shed. I was so angry at that fact.’
Following Kwon’s death, the clinic stayed open and continued to claim that it had gone 14 years without a patient experiencing any accident. It finally closed last year, though the reasons for its closure are unclear.
The 24-year-old’s family launched a civil case against the clinic and in May 2019 won damages of $430 million Korean won ($381,000). However, while a 2018 law raised the penalties for doctors who instruct ghost surgeries, research found the practice was still ‘rampant’.
Park Ho-kyun, a lawyer representing Kwon’s family, has noted that charges are difficult to prove as ghost doctors may not record their involvement in the surgery on medical charts, and many operating rooms don’t have cameras.
As a result of Kwon’s death, the surgeon, ghost doctor and anesthetist involved in his procedure are now facing criminal charges of manslaughter. Two doctors and one nursing assistant face charges of an unlicensed medical act, while one doctor faces a charge of violating medical laws by exaggerating in an advertisement.
Kwon’s mother is campaigning to see tighter laws around the practise and often stands outside South Korea’s parliament building in Seoul with a sign demanding that authorities introduce a bill requiring CCTV in operation rooms.
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677.
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