Ji Won Park: An Eloquence Beyond Words

Eight years after surviving assault, she remains blind, able to share a smile if no words. Her attacker is now free.

By Crawford Kilian 16 Jun 2010 |

Contributing editor Crawford Kilian runs a blog about Ji Won Park here.

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Ji Won at home. Photo by David Park.

On May 27, 2002, a psychologically disturbed young man attacked Ji Won Park as she was jogging down a trail in Stanley Park. He choked her nearly to death before she was rescued, and left her with brain damage that has made her a prisoner in her own body ever since.

As a friend of Ji Won, her mother Jackie, and her brother David, I've been following her slow and difficult progress. A few days ago, soon after the eighth anniversary of the attack, I visited Ji Won and her mother to see how she's been doing.

Ji Won looked great -- a big grin, a flawless complexion, and a twinkle in her eye. While she can't speak, she understands everything and takes an active part in the conversation. "Yes" is a smile; "no" is closed eyes. Her hands remain clenched into fists, but she has more control over her left arm, and used it to rub her forehead.

The family has seen some successes this year. David is now working as an accountant in Coquitlam. He has an apartment there and comes home on weekends -- usually on Saturday evening, his mother told me, after spending the day studying for his CGA.

Jackie herself won a prize as best student in her VCC ESL class, and her English is very good. "But my English writing is not good," she told me.

Distant Korea

Ji Won was in hospital for a week this spring with a serious stomach problem. It was the result of too much time spent in her wheelchair, plus a side effect of the muscle relaxants she must take several times a day to control spasms in her legs and arms. For a while, Jackie told me, the doctors thought surgery might be needed, but changing the dosage of the muscle relaxants seems to have solved the problem.

The family celebrated Ji Won's return home by taking off for a few days to the Oregon coast. They've been thinking about a trip back to Korea, but the ten-hour flight would probably be too long for Ji Won. "And we would have to stay in a hotel," Jackie said, "because apartments in Korea are not set up for wheelchairs." So a more likely destination (not until next winter) is Hawaii.

Singing herself to sleep

With her brother's help, Ji Won has a Facebook page and a lot of online friends. She enjoys listening to music (Michael Bublé is a favourite) and loves watching American Idol. Though she can't really see two-dimensional images due to the cortical blindness she suffered in the attack, she loves the singing. (Her brother David says she used to be a very good singer, and still sings a little before she goes to sleep.)

The blindness also keeps her from being able to read, or even to use the kind of eyetracking software that enables people like Stephen Hawking to communicate through a voice synthesizer. Yet several years ago she found she could still create visual art. She hasn't been able to keep doing it, but the family hopes to find a volunteer art teacher.

After a successful fund-raising effort earlier this year, the family is also planning to find a new speech therapist for her. She made some progress with the first one, four years ago, but couldn't continue when the government funding ended.

So despite her hospital stay, things are generally going fairly well for Ji Won and her family. But at one point during my visit, Jackie showed me a letter from the government, officially advising the family that Ji Won's attacker has now completed his sentence -- both jail time and parole.

Ji Won can't speak yet, but she didn't need to. The sadness in her face was eloquent beyond words. Her attacker's sentence is over. The life sentence he condemned her to has barely begun.  [Tyee]

Read more: Rights + Justice

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