A North Korean soldier who fled through a hail of bullets across the border regained consciousness on Tuesday and told doctors his name and age.
The 25-year-old has recovered enough to ask for food and to watch TV. But he is scheduled to undergo a third round of surgery on Wednesday and needs more time to fully recover from his gunshot wounds, doctors said.
The soldier fled to South Korea through a hail of bullets in the Joint Security Area last week and suffered five gunshot wounds to the lungs and abdomen. He made worldwide headlines when a 27-cm worm and other parasites were found in his gut during an operation, something unheard of even in most Third World countries.
According to hospital officials, the soldier was taken off the respirator last Saturday and was able to breathe on his own. He was then taken off sedatives and slowly regained consciousness.
He is still apparently incapable of engaging in normal conversation but can respond to questions from doctors by blinking his eyes.
Hospital staff hung the South Korean flag in the hospital room and are playing South Korean movies to help him relax.
There are still significant risks until the third round of surgery proves successful. The aim now is to treat fractures to his backbone and shoulder. Lee Kook-jong, the doctor in charge at Ajou University Hospital, plans to brief reporters on Wednesday.
A military source said, "Investigations of the scene of the defection and questioning of soldiers in the JSA have been completed, and we plan to interview the defector depending on the speed of his recovery."
The UN Command, which is also investigating the defection incident, is to announce interim findings on Wednesday.