Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Service in Love for 33 Years

"It is with the heart that you learn what love is and not with the head," says Dr. Kang, an 82-year-old dentist who for 33 years treated without charge the dental needs of patients suffering from Hansen's disease. The interview on the occasion of his retirement, carried by both Catholic papers, noted that he had been given a plaque in gratitude for his many years of unheralded service to the Hansen Disease community. His  free service extended to over 15 thousand patients. In receiving the plaque, he quoted the words of Cardinal Stephen Kim: It took him 70 years for love to go from the head to the heart. The doctor knows of what the Cardinal speaks, although humbly saying he only knows what is meant in a superficial way.

Those he has  served over the years arranged the presentation with a party in his office. His hearing loss and age made it necessary to stop his dental treatments, begun in 1979, in the different Hansen settlements throughout the country. He would leave his own practice and travel without receiving help from other groups or organizations. He also would take the molds necessary and make the dentures himself, not needing a dental technician, saving a great deal of money. He did charge for the materials used and would donate the money to the groups working with Hansen patients.

Emma Freisinger, an Austrian nurse who has worked with Hansen patients for over 50 years, was hoping to have a doctor who would take care of the dental needs of her patients, and when Dr. Kang appeared it was too good for words, she said. Patient's with Hansen's disease (once known as leprosy) even if cured would have difficulty being accepted back into society. They would have difficulty not only going to a clinic or hospital, but riding a bus, going to a restaurant or finding a place to sleep. It is easy to see why Dr. Kang's services were enthusiastically received.

Over the years, because of the doctor's work among the forgotten ones of society, he has been asked for interviews by newspapers but has always refused--until his retirement this year. He hopes that others will be open to this kind of service to the poor and sick of our society.

In the early days of his service to the Hansen patients he kept it a secret even from his family, knowing they would be opposed. But in time his wife and family were very supportive of his  volunteer work. He is also well-known in Seoul for the dental help given priests and seminarians over the years at his clinic, all gratis.

A volunteer working with Hansen patients said that what Dr. Kang did for over thirty years means he must have been doing it with a joyful heart, otherwise it would never have lasted that long. There is a need for this kind of service in society, and thankfully, we do have it. Dr. Kang is an example to the  younger generation of what it means to find a place in their own life for this kind of service to others