Kim Jong-il 'Getting Dialysis for Kidney Failure'

      March 25, 2010 09:52

      North Korean leader Kim Jong-il inspects an air force unit in May 2009. In recent photos including this one, Kim is shown with discolored hands and fingernails, common symptoms of kidney disease. /Yonhap

      North Korean leader Kim Jong-il suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure and receives kidney dialysis once every two weeks, the head of a think tank affiliated with the National Intelligence Service claimed Wednesday.

      Nam Sung-wook of the Institute for National Security made the claim in a lecture on the future of inter-Korean relations organized by the Young Korean Academy. "The reason why Kim's fingernails are white seems to be chronic kidney failure," he said.

      Medical experts agree with the assessment. If the kidneys fail, the body becomes unable to discharge toxic substances. The condition affects melanin cells in the skin and causes it to turn dark. Experts say the unusually dark color of Kim's hands in recent photographs is probably a symptom. Meanwhile the fingernails, which do not contain melanin cells, are not affected by color changes and end up looking whiter. For several years, experts have been saying symptoms of edema apparent in Kim's body are due to chronic kidney failure.

      The North Korean leader is believed to have suffered from diabetes, the main cause of chronic kidney failure, for some time. Kidney functions can usually be maintained through dialysis for five to seven years, but eventually a transplant is needed. Even after a kidney transplant, it is uncertain whether Kim's body will be able to withstand the rigorous treatment with immunosuppressants that follows since he already had a stroke and has high blood pressure and diabetes. In a closed-door meeting last month, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said he believes Kim only has about three years to live.

      "Kim, who is about 165 cm tall, weighed 86 kg before his stroke around August 15, 2008 and was widely expected to develop problems with his circulation," Nam said. "He went on a three-month diet after recovering in January of 2009 to prevent another stroke and now weighs between 70 kg to 73 kg." Kim was born in 1942 and his age makes complete recovery difficult, Nam added. "Footage of him applauding during a March 7 rally in Hamheung shows him using his right hand to hit an immobile left hand," he recalled.

      Speaking about the transfer of power from Kim Jong-il to his third son Jong-un, Nam said, "The power transfer process gathered momentum after Kim's stroke, but it appears that efforts have slowed down a bit since June."

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