Ninety-three-year-old Wang King-ho (王金河) looks like an ordinary grandfather, but there is more to him than meets the eye — a painful story set in the coastal area of southern Taiwan.
Back in the late 1950s, a mystery illness dubbed by locals as “Blackfoot disease” afflicted several townships in Tainan and Chiayi counties including Hsuehchia (學甲), Beiman (北門), Budai (布袋) and Yijhu (義竹), where residents mainly depended on deep wells for drinking water.
“The wells they drilled became deeper and deeper because water from shallow wells tasted too salty as a result of the local salt industry,” said Shin Ya-ping (施雅屏), a staffer from the Southwest Coast National Scenic Area Administration.
But people in the townships did not know the water they drank everyday contained arsenic, which led to the chronic poisoning of local residents, Shin said.
As its name suggests, Blackfoot disease started with the tips of a patient’s limbs — usually their feet — turning black. What often followed the change of color was death of tissue (necrosis) and extreme pain as patients’ blood vessels were unable to deliver nutrients to tissues at the peripheries of their limbs.
Patients usually had to endure multiple amputations as necroses recurred on remaining parts of their limbs.
In addition to physical pain, patients were often shunned as the disease was considered a punishment from the gods.
The condition existed for years before Wang, then a 44-year-old doctor who had studied medicine in Tokyo, came onto the scene.
At the invitation of Lilian Dickson, a US missionary and founder of the Mustard Seed Mission, Wang established the nation’s first and only free clinic for patients with Blackfoot disease in 1960.
“I treated 2,000 to 3,000 patients suffering from [Blackfoot disease] during my 35 years of practice, with the youngest being a five-year-old child,” Wang said in an interview with the Taipei Times in front of his old clinic in Beimen Township.
Wang and Hsieh Wei (謝緯) — a doctor from Puli Township (埔里) in Nantou County — performed amputations inside the small clinic, while Dickson and the mission raised funds to support their work.
“I still remember that one of the patients was a very beautiful bride-to-be,” said Wang Hsiu-yun (王琇雲), a nurse who joined Wang King-ho’s practice in her teens.
“When she was diagnosed with the illness, she kept crying and didn’t want to have her foot amputated,” Wang Hsiu-yun said.
Some patients could not be saved so Wang and his two nurses also made coffins and helped bury them.
“My mother warned me that I could end up being single for the rest of my life because no man would dare to marry me since I helped Dr Wang carry the coffins,” Wang Hsiu-yun said.
Over the years, the clinic also sheltered patients who were rejected by their own families. At one point, the number of patients the small structure housed reached about 80 people.
To encourage patients who had become disillusioned as a result of the physical and psychological pain, Wang King-ho launched a handicraft training class at the back of the clinic in the hope that they could at least acquire some skills.
Wang and his wife Mao Pi-mei (毛碧梅) ran the class for 17 years before the Taiwan provincial government took over in 1978.
Though the provincial government also established an official Blackfoot disease prevention center in Beiman in 1977, Wang did not end his practice until 1996 — 50 years after he first started practicing medicine.
Although Wang saw many deaths and much suffering during his three decades of treating the disease, he said he never felt discouraged.
“I did not become a doctor in order to make more money. That’s why I did not lose my spirit after having treated so many patients,” Wang said.
Wang’s old clinic — a modest Japanese-style one-story wooden structure — was designated as the Taiwan Blackfoot Disease Socio-Medical Service Memorial House at the end of September 2007 to commemorate Wang’s selfless dedication and the history of a disease unique to Taiwan.
The house faithfully recreates Wang’s operating room as it was 30 years ago and has a set of patients’ amputated feet preserved in formaldehyde.
“The memorial house now serves as a witness of Taiwan’s 30-years of Blackfoot disease. It can also help pass on Dr Wang’s spirit,” said Wang Hsiu-yun, who returned to Beiman as a volunteer at the house after learning of the opening of the memorial.
“Dr Wang often delivers speeches to medical students,” she said. “He usually tells them that even though it is great for them to be able to make a lot of money [by becoming a doctor], sometimes doing volunteer work can bring happiness that they cannot buy.”
‘VIRUS DIPLOMACY’: The nation’s expertise in handling COVID-19 was among the reasons that it should not be excluded from the WHO, the European Parliament said The European Parliament this week passed resolutions that support Taiwan’s bid to participate in the WHO and its intention to negotiate a trade pact with Taiwan. During its plenary session from Monday to Thursday, the parliament approved resolutions on the foreign policy consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak and the EU’s trade policy, parts of which were viewed as friendly toward Taiwan by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In a statement yesterday, the ministry welcomed the passage of the resolutions and thanked the parliament for its support for Taiwan. In the first resolution, the parliament cited Beijing’s increasing threats to Taiwan, the crackdown on
The gig began with a nun chanting on stage, but suddenly erupted into a wall of noise unleashed by distorted guitars and screamed sutras — the unique sound of Taiwan’s first Buddhist death metal band. The nation has a vibrant metal scene, but few outfits are quite as eye-catching as Dharma (達摩樂隊), a band that aims to deliver enlightenment via the medium of throaty eight-string guitars and guttural roars. Dressed in robes — black, of course — they use traditional Sanskrit sutras as lyrics, but everything else screams death metal, from bloody face paint on stage to growled vocals, relentless riffs and
LOOPHOLES: The people behind biased media content produced by a Chinese network, likely without sending staff to Taiwan, remain anonymous, a source said Beijing’s latest attempt at psychological warfare through heavily biased online media is aimed at sowing discord and polarizing Taiwanese society, the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said. The council’s comment came in response to Chinese network Southeast Television, which late last month began broadcasting an online program featuring commentary by Taiwanese unification supporters that authorities suspect was filmed illegally in Taiwan. To circumvent cross-strait regulations, the broadcaster collaborated with online service provider Baidu to air the series titles Diverse Voices From the Taiwan Strait (台海百家說). Only Taiwanese are shown on camera, without revealing the host, interviewer or production team. In one video, political commentator and
SUPPRESSION: Michael Tsai, a former defense minister, said that Beijing’s list of Taiwan independence advocates contravenes the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights The best way to respond to threats from China against Taiwan independence advocates is for the president to publicly reiterate Taiwan’s sovereignty, former minister of national defense Michael Tsai (蔡明憲) said on Sunday. Chinese media on Nov. 15 said that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was compiling “a list of stubborn Taiwanese separatists and will severely punish them in accordance with [China’s] Anti-Secession Law and hold them accountable for their actions for the rest of their lives.” Chinese media subsequently accused Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) of being a “first-rate war criminal,” because of his policy on mask exports. “The vast majority