The Words of the Schanker Family

Update on Hyeshik Schanker

Philip Schanker
September 12, 2007

Dear All,

Although I did not intend to burden you with that long, detailed 1st Email concerning Hyeshik's medical situation that was intended for family and close friends, I deeply appreciate your prayer and support.

Here is an update -- still detailed but not as long. There is, unfortunately, some serious news as we uncover the underlying causes of her coma. There is also heartening and hopeful news as she becomes more fully conscious and aware each day.

Because my wife was admitted with symptoms taken as a sign of seizure, her condition was approached from that perspective. The CAT scan of her brain did not reveal any sign of stroke, and additional tests indicated that her brain function seemed normal (which, in fact, it is -- on the level of thinking).

Unfortunately, Monday's MRI revealed that way down at the base of her brain -- in the brain stem where all the neurons and signals pass between her brain and body, the basilar artery was 95% blocked by a blood clot, causing damage to about 1/3 of the brain cells in that critical area.

The underlying cause, we now understand, was more severe deterioration inside her heart than we realized. My wife has had rheumatic heart disease, and although she has had no complaints, and a normal EKG will not reveal it, deterioration of her valves most likely caused a large clot, which was thrown out in a shower of smaller clots, some of which reached her brain.

The areas affected impact her breathing, heart, speaking, etc. So although my wife is conscious and seems aware and responsive to our presence, the prognosis is not good for speech recovery, function of her left side (and possibly her right as well). From the neurologists perspective, it is a big question mark concerning how awake and communicative she will be able to ultimately be, due to the neural damage.

Many friends have pointed out that they know people who had a stroke and they had no problem with this or that, or recovered this or that, but it is important to understand that "stroke" is a general term for a decrease in brain function due to loss of circulation, but the impact depends on what area of the brain, the time and degree of blood deprivation, and the amount of damage done to cells that, medically speaking, cannot divide or regenerate.

Hyeshik actually had multiple areas of stroke, but some seem to have had little or no effect at all. But basilar occlusion (blockage) is one of the more serious and debilitating. There are also risks of infection from her being immobile and from her heart condition.

On the other hand, the good news is that my children's mother is getting better every day -- more awake, more aware, more feisty, more upset when she is pricked and poked. She is yawning, trying to sneeze and cough, and trying hard to make her body move.

We are well aware that there is dramatic physical and neural healing that can happen without explanation. Plus my wife is a strong, determined and goal-oriented person, and she and I are more united and in love than ever -- we are ready to work together on this challenge which, even if life-long, is a small bump in the road of our eternal commitment.

My incredible children- Mi-ae, Ben, Joshua, and David, are with her, and she is so proud and happy with each one of them -- their successes in school, their matchings and Blessings, their love and support for each other. They should know how at peace she is because of who they have become.

And there are "miracles." We will employ our faith, our trust in God and TP, support from SW, and we have seen wonders in stroke recovery with the help of circulatory stimulation and acupuncture. And we will employ the best medical and rehabilitative care we can.

Presently, Hyeshik responds to our presence, and we are singing, reading and talking to her a lot. She cannot speak or move her eyes very much or her body at all, but she can see us, and we are communicating (one "blink" means yes, 2 blinks mean no).

Our 1st goal is to strengthen her control over breathing, coughing and clearing her throat enough to remove the uncomfortable breathing tube from her throat. She is breathing on her own, but must be in command of all faculties enough for them to remove it. Then we will go on to step 2.

All of your prayers, love and support are deeply, deeply appreciated. Know that we love you all very much, and we would give our lives in a heartbeat for the cause that you have given your lives for.

Also know that although I am so sorry to God and TP that I didn't take better care of their daughter (and I know my wife is feeling sorry to all of those burdened by this situation -- that is who she is), it is not difficult to be grateful in this time, because we have been so richly Blessed -- our life is overflowing with meaning and love and value.

There is an Amy Grant song that says: "The same sun that melts the wax will harden clay. The same rain that drowns the rat will grow the hay. And the same wind that knocks us down, if we lean into it, will drive our fears away."

Before too long we may be asking help and support from those who can spend time with Hyeshik... helping her work on rehabilitation. For now, your prayers and supportive and loving thoughts are helping us so much.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Love and prayer,
Phillip and Hyeshik Schanker and family

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