Sponsor Stories

“Don’t lose hope. Continue to make an effort to be cured.”

Q1. Father, can you please introduce yourself?

My name is Gerard Edward Hammond. I was born in West Philadelphia and ordained a Maryknoll priest in June 1960. In August 1960, I arrived in Korea after a trip of 3 weeks on the freighter Bayou State, landing at Wolmi-do in South Korea.

Maryknoll’s roots, though, are in North Korea, as the first group of Maryknoll priests arrived in Sinuiju, North Korea on May 10, 1923, which was the beginning of Maryknoll’s mission to Korea 95 years ago.

Q2. How did you begin visiting North Korea as part of EugeneBell’s multidrug-resistant tuberculosis treatment program?

My first visit to North Korea was with Catholic Relief Services in 1995 and I made other visits with the Teachers Program from Seton Hall University.

In 1997, I met Dr. Linton and he invited me to join him, which was a dream come true. I wanted to be a part of the lives of North Koreans as they are now part of my life.

Q3. What is the most difficult part of your visit?

The most difficult part of the visit to the 12 MDR-TB centers is watching and hearing the patients coughing up sputum, which must be tested to determine if they can be accepted as new patients. I felt so helpless and they are so vulnerable.

Q4. Is there a particular episode that you remember most?

I saw a young man who was so sick I thought he would die at any moment. He was so sick that he was unable to cough up any sputum except some blood. On the next trip, I saw him again and he was much stronger. In 6 more months, he was cured.

Q5. What troubles you the most when you see MDR-TB patients?

We are unable to treat more patients and ease their suffering. MDR-TB patients at the centers need to spend many hours waiting to receive their medicine, which is especially difficult during very cold or hot weather. A trip to North Korea is never the same.

Q6. What would you say to comfort MDR-TB patients?

I say to new patients, “Don’t give up taking your medicine” or “Don’t give it to anyone else.” “You need energy and determination.”

To old patients, I say, “Don’t lose hope.” “Continue to make an effort to be cured.”

I try to comfort those who are not cured.

Of course, these conversations are spiritual moments for me. I pray every day for the MDR-TB patients and for peace between North and South Korea, reconciliation between the people of North and South Korea, and dialogue. For me to be close to the MDR-TB patients when they give their sputum is a spiritual moment. In fact, at night I can hear the sounds of their coughing.