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Korean first lady paves way for ill boy’s surgery

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South Korean First Lady Kim Keon-hee holds Aok Rotha, a boy with a congenital heart condition, during her visit to his home in Phnom Penh on November 12. YONHAP NEWS AGENCY

Korean first lady paves way for ill boy’s surgery

A 14-year-old boy with congenital heart disease who was lucky enough to meet with South Korean first lady Kim Keon-hee may get the chance of a lifetime and receive surgery and treatment at Asan Medical Center in Seoul, South Korea. After seeing his plight, many South Koreans have offered assistance, both medical and financial.

Aok Rotha met Kim as she visited the Hebron Medical Center (HMC) in Phnom Penh on November 12. Kim was in Cambodia accompanying her husband, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who attended the dual ASEAN summits.

After their meeting, Kim was so moved that she returned to see him again the following day.

Lee Young-don, director of HMC, told The Post on November 16 that Kim had been in touch to monitor the boy’s condition and make sure he would be strong enough for the trip to Seoul.

“After HMC introduced Rotha to the first lady of Korea, Kim Keon-hee, she paid a personal visit to his home. She was so touched by his condition, and held him in her arms. The pictures were plastered all over the newspapers in Korea. Then, benefactors in Korea stepped forward to offer help,” he said.

Lee said that the boy and an immediate family member would be able to travel as soon as they receive their passports and visas. He confirmed that all costs related to the travel and his treatment would be taken care of. The Asan Medical Center will be responsible for Rotha’s surgery and treatment.

“Philanthropy will provide all of their expenses. Thanks to donations from the first lady and her bodyguards – and many ordinary Koreans – Hebron will be able to treat him. We hope that the surgery will be successful, but sometimes more than one operation is needed,” he added.

Rotha is 14 years old, but weighs just 19kg due to his severe congenital heart disease. A South Korean surgical team performed a BT shunt procedure in 2018, but his after-care was poorly managed. Subsequently, the shunt – a tube in his heart – was blocked, and he struggled to breathe.

“We hope that his brother will accompany him, as his mother is unwell,” said Lee.

Sorn Sady, Rotha’s caregiver, told The Post that the boy’s father had died before he was born and that he was the youngest of 12 siblings, two of whom had also passed away.

“After his 2018 surgery, he was taking his medication and waiting patiently for his second surgery. Unfortunately, due to family circumstances, he was not brought to his follow up appointments and his health declined again,” she said.

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