The founder member of a South Korean girl band from the Seventies has thanked her surgeon for saving her life.

Kitty Junim McLaughlin, 75, underwent breast cancer surgery earlier this year at the Royal Free Hospital, followed by several rounds of chemotherapy, and she is now back doing what she enjoys best — drumming!

Kitty left South Korea when she was just 18 years old and performed as a drummer with a band across Asia. She went on to form another group – The Korean Black Eyes - and they ended up touring worldwide and making records in Europe during the 1970s. The band – which covered Western pop songs - was together for about 10 years and performed on the same bill with stars like Cliff Richard and Julio Iglesias, but it wasn’t always easy.

The Korean Black Eyes with Cliff Richard
Cliff Richard centre with Kitty far right

“The girls kept on meeting men and getting married, then not wanting to tour anymore so we’d have to find replacements,” recalls Kitty. “But it really was an incredible time and we were treated by princesses by everyone. We toured 28 different countries including concerts throughout Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Our Swedish agents discovered ABBA as well as us. Unfortunately we didn’t become quite as well known!

“When the band finally broke up myself my bass player were invited to join another band by some English musicians. That’s how I ended up making my home here and eventually meeting another musician who became my husband.”

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Band founder Kitty pictured centre on drums with other members of The Korean Black Eyes

Kitty was recently filmed with her breast surgeon at the Royal Free Hospital as part of a music documentary about the band, who are seen as helping pave the way for the enormous success of K-Pop in South Korea and worldwide. Sadly Kitty’s treatment meant she had been forced to miss the film’s opening night.

Kitty, who now lives in Barnet, north London, said the breast cancer diagnosis was just the latest bump in the road in her colourful life.

She said: “I’ve had 14 major operations in my life, including treatment for Ewing’s sarcoma and two artery bypasses. I count myself lucky to be here and I want to thank my surgeon Mrs Fawzia Imtiaz- Crosbie for her professionalism and how brilliant she is at explaining things to her patients. She’s an incredibly hard-working person. The other person at the Royal Free Hospital I also want to thank is my vascular surgeon Chung Lim as he also saved my life a few years ago. It really is a miracle that I’m still here and I can only express my huge appreciation for all the who have looked after me so well over the years. 

“Due to my health problems I’ve had to retire professionally but I still try and play the drums at home every day! The chemotherapy was causing nerve damage – numbing my fingers - but the team advised I didn’t need to continue, which I’m sure has helped prevent any further damage. I’m really grateful  as I’m a painter as well as a drummer. Now I’m hoping I can get to South Korea for the official opening of the film which is entered into a few film festivals – it would be wonderful to see everyone again.”

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Film poster​​​​​​ for the band documentary

Fawzia Imtiaz-Crosbie said: “I’m really delighted that Kitty has recovered so well. She’s had some really gruelling treatment but Kitty has such a positive, sunny attitude, she’s just incredibly inspiring. 

“It’s not only my work that contributed to her successful outcome. Kitty benefitted from the world class expertise of the Royal Free London’s breast cancer multidisciplinary team, in particular their oncology service led by Dr Judy King, Dr Neha Chopra and Dr Sarah Needleman, and our amazing breast care nurses, Arlene Galindon, Monica Castro and Aisling Mcsweeney. Its wonderful that Kitty can go back to doing what she loves - painting and drumming. She is a star!”

Kim Daehyun, film director, Kitty and Fawzia, Kitty's surgeon.jpg
Kim Daehyun, The Korean Black Eyes' film director, Kitty and Fawzia, Kitty's surgeon