The cardinal archbishop of Seoul says that South Korea is proud of the medical professionals who have put their lives at risk to care for patients in the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
South Korea has not reported a new case of MERS for five days, but on Friday reported its 36th death from the disease.
“To all personnel who risk their lives to fight against MERS, I offer my heartfelt gratefulness,” Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung told the medical team and nurses who have had direct contact with patients during the MERS outbreak in Seoul.
South Korea has confirmed 186 MERS infections. More than 560 people remain in quarantine. A total of 125 of those diagnosed with the virus have recovered.
The outbreak started in South Korea on May 20 when a 68-year-old man was diagnosed after returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia. The illness was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.
Last Wednesday, Cardinal Yeom visited Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital of the Catholic University of Korea and met with about 15 doctors, nurses, and staff who stood on the front lines in the fight against MERS.
“The medical team of CMC (Catholic Medical Center) has played a critical role in bringing an end to the MERS crisis,” the cardinal said. “You have shown real courage in dreadful situations and truly lived out the spirit of the hospital founded in respect for human beings.”
The cardinal was asked to wear a mask during the visit. “I seldom wear a mask and I am already feeling the discomfort,” said Cardinal Yeom. “Imagine how much discomfort the medical team has to endure while taking care of the patients in the protective suit.”
Before he left the hospital, the cardinal gave each person a rosary and encouraged them to “always give their best effort with a prayerful heart.” The cardinal also promised that he will always pray for them.
Ready to help
Stella Sun-hee Yun, a nurse who voluntarily offered to treat the MERS patients, said that the choice to help others was an almost instinctive reaction. “When I heard about the MERS outbreak and how my colleagues are risking their lives to fight against the crisis, I felt the urge to offer my service as a medic.”
“I was under a lot of pressure worrying about emergency situations because only limited medical staffs are allowed in the isolation ward,” recalled Yun. “I was very touched when the patient said to me, ‘thank you so much for coming here, I know it wouldn’t be easy.’”
The hospitals under the Catholic Medical Center received appraisal from the government for handling the MERS outbreak in a fast and excellent manner. In June, the government named eight hospitals of the CMC—including Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital—a “trustworthy hospital of Korea.”
During the MERS outbreak, most hospitals in the country rejected suspected patients because of the anxiety. CMC affiliated hospitals took over the MERS suspected patients and treated them with extra care.
On July 12, a Holy Mass dedicated to the MERS outbreak was celebrated in Yeouido St. Mary’s Hospital. Medical staffs from eight hospitals of CMC prayed together with patients and their families. During the Mass, the medical staff recited a declaration, promising to give their best effort to take care of those who suffer from MERS.
CMC, the Catholic Medical Center, was established by the Archdiocese of Seoul. The Archbishop of Seoul takes the responsibility of chairman. CMC has the largest scale medical network in Korea, with medical schools, nursing schools, the Graduate School of Catholic University, Biomedical Industrial Research Center, and eight affiliated hospitals of the Catholic University.