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Korea honours the Leper Dentist

SEOUL (AsiaNews): The archdiocese of Seoul joined other groups and people in South Korea in honouring Kang Dae-gun, better known to the nation as the Leper Dentist, who is renowned for treating more than 15,000 people suffering from Hansen’s Disease for free during his 33 years of practice.

Kang, who is a parishioner in the archdiocese of Seoul, always refused honours and awards that were offered to him, but on the occasion of his retirement, he found that he could not refuse any longer.

Kang ran a dental clinic, but during his off duty hours he treated people suffering from Hansen’s Disease, which was prevalent in South Korea during the second half of the 20th century.

Kang demonstrated that it is possible to break through the social stigma and myths that are associated with the disease, providing 5,000 sets of dentures and treating many patients, the Archdiocesan Secretariat of Seoul announced on June 4.

On the day that Kang announced his retirement, a group of patients and supporters gathered at his clinic in Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, to thank the 82-year-old for his work in dispelling the social stigma that comes with the disease.

Sister Emma Freisinger, who has worked with the sick for many years, presented Kang with a plaque commemorating his work.

The dentist first began helping victims of Hansen’s Disease in 1979, after he saw a man suffering from the sickness being thrown out of a private clinic.

“Kang never wanted to let others know about his service and refused awards or prizes that were offered to him from many organisations. But we have decided to hold this event to honour him and inspire the younger generation with his lifelong work,” Father Kim Deuk-kwon, who has supported his work for many years, said.

At first, his family did not support him, but later became one of his most reliable backers.

The 82-year-old dentist addressed the gathering saying, “The late Stephen Cardinal Kim Soo-hwan once said that love is from the heart; his words helped me realise how important it is to love others from my heart.”


He added that over the years, “I had so much joy and gained so much doing volunteer work that I cannot express it in words. If I were born again I would definitely dedicate my life to this work one more time.”

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