Jang Bong-sok, 5, meets Santa Claus last month at Camp Hialeah in Pusan, South Korea. The boy, deaf in both ears, underwent surgery that was hoped would restore his hearing Jan. 17.

Jang Bong-sok, 5, meets Santa Claus last month at Camp Hialeah in Pusan, South Korea. The boy, deaf in both ears, underwent surgery that was hoped would restore his hearing Jan. 17. (Yi Nam-yol / Courtesy of U.S. Army)

PYONGTAEK, South Korea — Members of the U.S. military community in Pusan, South Korea, are awaiting word on whether a deaf 5-year-old South Korean boy, who was abandoned as a toddler, will regain his hearing after undergoing surgery last Monday.

The boy, Jang Bong-sok, has lived in a home for abused or abandoned children in Pusan since he was 3, said Anthony Gray, Catholic coordinator for Camp Hialeah.

Bong-sok’s laborer father brought him there, saying his wife had abandoned him, his son and two daughters, and that he couldn’t afford to keep the boy, whose deafness was caused by a degenerative ailment, Gray said.

The home, called Isaac’s House, is run by three South Korean lay Catholics with ties to members of the U.S. military community in Pusan, including Camp Hialeah and the Pusan Storage Facility.

The home began efforts about two years ago to raise $30,000 so Bong-sok could have an operation that might restore his hearing. After learning of the effort last fall, members of the U.S. military community started fund-raising efforts of their own and eventually contributed about $5,500, Gray said.

For 3½ hours Monday, doctors at Pusan’s Dong Hwa University Hospital performed ocular implant surgery in hopes of restoring Bang-sok’s hearing.

Gray said he hoped to find out last weekend whether the surgery was successful.

Bong-sok’s survival of his harsh beginnings can be credited in large measure to the efforts of Ju Yang-suk, known to Camp Hialeah Catholics as Sister Catarina, who set right to work trying to nurse the child back to health when he was given to the home, Gray said.

Sister Catarina — whom the 20 children at Isaac’s House call oh-mo-ni, Korean for “mother” — and her sister, Ju Yong-sook, provide day-to-day care for the children, and her husband, a salesman, helps at night, tutoring them and acting much as a father would, Gray said.

The child’s “mom and dad were not educated beyond elementary school,” Gray said. “Dad is a day laborer. He tries to find work wherever he can.

“When Bong-sok was born,” said Gray, “the mom, she was very aggressive with him … Nothing seemed to sink in for him. He was non-responsive. They thought perhaps he was retarded.

“They were very uneducated and they didn’t even think that perhaps the boy was deaf and that the reason he wasn’t doing what they were telling him was that he couldn’t hear,” Gray said.

“So, she basically neglected him. She failed to feed him, she failed to physically take care of him, to nurture him. She didn’t take care of him when he was ill.” Then, said Gray, the mother left.

“With no place to go, Bong- sok’s dad heard about Catarina’s house and took the boy there,” Gray said.

By then, the child was undersized and had severe health problems.

Sister Catarina “took him to the doctor as soon as the boy was brought there,” said Gray. “They had immediate needs to take care of. He had liver problems. He had kidney problems. He had a host of problems.

“And at some point during that phase, the doctors determined that the boy was deaf” in both ears, Gray said. “He was totally deaf and it was from some degenerative type of disease.”

The hospital asked $50,000 for last week’s operation and two years of rehabilitative and follow-up care, he said.

But when hospital officials learned of the home’s tight budget, the hospital cut the bill by $20,000.

Sister Catarina and her husband set up a bank account and Web site and sought donations that would fund Bong-sok’s medical help, which doctors said was needed no later than January to prevent further deterioration.

Last October, Gray appealed to fellow Catholics at Sunday Mass at Camp Hialeah’s base chapel. He set out donation boxes and, over several Sundays, people donated about $2,000.

Bong-sok’s plight also came to the attention of Sue O’Leary, management support assistant at the U.S. Army’s Pusan Storage Facility, or PSF.

“He’s a sweet little boy, just like ordinary little boy, and shy, rather shy, and very cute,” she said.

O’Leary told Bong-sok’s story at a staff meeting and, with the support of the PSF’s leadership, asked fellow employees, most of whom are Korean nationals, to donate money for the operation.

PSF employees together gave more than $1,000, O’Leary said.

Gray, after e-mailing attendees in advance, got another $500 in donations at a Christmas party at Camp Hialeah’s Pusan Pub.

Gray thinks members of the U.S. military community in Pusan have since donated another $2,000 or so directly to the Bong-sok fund that Isaac’s House set up.

The hospital went ahead with the operation, saying they’d give Sister Catarina time — a payment plan over two years — to raise the remaining sum, Gray said.

Doctors planned to keep Bong-sok under observation until Wednesday.

Gray said those wanting to contribute money to the fund for Bong-sok’s medical expenses can send an e-mail to: tonygray1@ or can phone Gray at 011-9671-1569.

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