Ji Won Stands and Walks

On her long recovery from a random assault, it's been two steps forward, one back.

By Crawford Kilian 29 May 2009 |

Tyee contributing editor Crawford Kilian blogs about Ji Won.

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Ji Won Park assisted at her 'standing table'. Photo by David Park.

As a friend of the family, I was delighted to see how well Ji Won Park looked when I saw her the other day. Her smile was bright and her complexion was radiant. The day before the seventh anniversary of the attack that disabled her, she was cheerful and alert.

It has been a hard seven years. In 2002, she was studying English in the West End, looking forward to a career in event management. A mentally disturbed young man attacked her while she was jogging in Stanley Park, strangled her, and left her severely brain-damaged.

When her mother, Jackie Lim, arrived in Vancouver soon after, the doctors told her Ji Won would probably never come out of her coma. But she did. After months of agony, she recovered enough to understand that she was a prisoner in her own body. Slowly she has made progress toward recovery.

Two steps forward, one step back: She had an art teacher who amazingly taught her how to paint when she can't really see in two dimensions. A speech therapist helped her begin to speak a few words, but the family can't afford such help any more. A hand-held computer offered the promise of restoring some kind of speech, but it didn't work out. The company took back the computer.

The provincial government, which has supported Ji Won and her family in many ways, decided her physiotherapy wasn't improving her any more, and withdrew support. Now the family pays for two physio sessions a week.

That includes an hour a day in a “standing table,” where she can build up her leg muscles. It's helping. Her Facebook page shows a video of her first tentative steps, earlier this spring.

Pulling together, looking ahead

For all their difficulties, the family is optimistic. They've applied for Canadian citizenship, and joke about how Ji Won will answer the citizenship judge's questions. They plan a trip this summer to visit Lorne Mayencourt in Prince George. As their West End MLA, Mayencourt was Ji Won's constant supporter. Now he runs the BC New Hope Recovery Society.

Jackie is studying English -- and trying to read a new book, The Brain that Changes Itself, which offers some hope for Ji Won's recovery. The first pages of her copy show her translations of difficult words into Korean.

David, meanwhile, has graduated from BCIT and is looking for a job as an accountant. Since his discharge from the Korean army years ago, he has worked and studied to help support his sister.

Ji Won still communicates with smiles (yes) and closed eyes (no). Even for her mother and brother, "Jiwonese" is a difficult language.

But after seven years, Ji Won Park remains an intelligent young woman who is aware of the world around her. Once she played the piano, studied English and Turkish, and made plans for herself. Now she understands but can't speak. Her cortical blindness is improving a little, but she still can't read, or recognize two-dimensional images.

Some day she she will speak again. When she does, we will have much to learn from her.

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