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DP chief Lee in recovery, but questions abound

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Democratic Party spokesman Kwon Chil-seung, left, speaks at a press briefing regarding party leader Lee Jae-myung's condition in front of Seoul National University Hospital in Jongno District, central Seoul, on Wednesday afternoon. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]
Democratic Party spokesman Kwon Chil-seung, left, speaks at a press briefing regarding party leader Lee Jae-myung’s condition in front of Seoul National University Hospital in Jongno District, central Seoul, on Wednesday afternoon. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

Democratic Party (DP) leader Lee Jae-myung is recovering from an injury suffered in an attack that occurred the day before.

DP spokesman Kwon Chil-seung said on Wednesday that Lee could drink water and has taken antibiotics and other medication after his surgery.

Lee had been moved from the intensive care unit to the general ward.

In a radio interview with CBS, DP spokesman Park Sung-joon added that medical staff who performed Lee’s vascular reconstruction surgery said the operation went well.

However, controversy over the severity of Lee’s injury intensified on the second day as medical professionals raised questions over his relocation to Seoul from Busan, where he was attacked with a knife to the neck.

The 59-year-old Lee is currently recovering at Seoul National University Hospital, where he underwent a two-hour operation on Tuesday for a stab wound in the neck inflicted by a 67-year-old man wielding a 17-centimeter (7-inch) knife during a visit to Busan.

At a press briefing held at Seoul National University Hospital on Wednesday afternoon, DP official and former vice chairman of the Korea Medical Association Kang Cheong-hee hit back at rumors that Lee only suffered a superficial laceration in the attack, telling reporters that the assailant’s knife had penetrated so far as to inflict a nine-millimeter-deep puncture in his internal jugular vein.

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When asked by reporters why the press briefing on Lee’s condition was not being led by the doctor who performed the surgery at Seoul National University Hospital, Kang said he did not understand why.

Various sources have also given different descriptions of Lee’s injury, with DP officials characterizing it as a life-threatening wound that damaged 60 percent of his internal jugular vein, while others said the knife only went one centimeter into his neck.

Medical professionals have also questioned how and why Lee was transported by helicopter from the external trauma center at Pusan National University Hospital, where he was initially admitted, to Seoul National University Hospital.

“It doesn’t make sense that Lee was moved by helicopter from Pusan, which has the best external trauma treatment center in the country, to Seoul National University Hospital, which doesn’t even have one,” wrote Yang Seong-kwan, director of the family medicine department at Paik Hospital in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi, in a Facebook post uploaded Wednesday.

Others, such as Yeo Han-sol, chief of the emergency medicine department at Sokcho Medical Center in Gangwon, argued that “if Lee’s life was in immediate danger, his operation should have taken place at Pusan,” and that he “should not have been transported by helicopter if his situation wasn’t urgent,” suggesting that Lee’s political prominence allowed his use of a rescue helicopter.

While the Busan Metropolitan City Fire Disaster Headquarters told the JoongAng Ilbo that Lee’s transport by helicopter to Seoul “followed established procedures,” emergency rescue personnel who spoke to the paper on condition of anonymity said that rescue helicopters are usually reserved for transporting people who have suffered cardiac arrest or serious external injuries, or individuals who are stranded in mountainous regions.

The Busan Metropolitan Police Agency said Wednesday they plan to seek a warrant to formally arrest the suspect, identified only by his surname Kim, on charges of attempted murder after he confessed to intending to kill Lee.

The effect of the attack on Lee’s ongoing legal troubles remains to be seen.

While the DP leader was originally due to attend a court hearing on Wednesday regarding corruption charges brought against him by prosecutors, that no longer appears likely due to his current state.

How the attack will affect his party’s prospects in the upcoming general election is also unclear.

In May 2006, former President Park Geun-hye, who was head of the conservative Grand National Party (GNP) at the time, was slashed in the face with a box cutter while canvassing for Oh Se-hoon, who was running for the Seoul mayoralty.

The attack boosted the GNP’s faltering campaign leading up to the local government elections scheduled for May 31, 2006, and conservatives won 12 out of 16 metropolitan and provincial chief posts.

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]