The Words of the Schanker Family

Update on Hyeshik Schanker

Phillip Schanker
September 16, 2007

It is now 1 week since my wife succumbed to a stroke, which damaged her brain stem, where all the lines of communication between brain and body pass, and the area responsible for regulating the most basic functions such as breathing, heartbeat, body temperature, etc. We are making plans to bring her to Maryland, hopefully before the end of next week, and proceed to the next level of "restoration."

We could not achieve the early progress we had hoped -- although my wife can breathe on her own, so far she cannot keep awake and alert enough, nor communicate to her chest muscles clearly enough to cough, sneeze or protect her airway at will. Therefore, although she cannot come off the ventilator completely, we will remove the breathing tube from her throat and connect a cleaner, safer and more comfortable one through throat, as well as place a feeding tube directly into her stomach, on Monday.

Once she is stable and comfortable with these, we will bring her closer to home, if we can find a facility comparable to the ones that Overlook Hospital (a neurological and stroke center, where she was brought initially) is familiar with here in NJ. It must be a place that can provide a respirator and other "acute" care (IVs, etc.), but also work to strengthen breathing and stimulate consciousness to achieve "weaning" her off of the breathing support.

The challenging and somewhat scary part is knowing that Hyeshik's mental acuity and awareness seems normal -- she knows what is going on, but her ability to send brain signals to virtually ANY part of her body is near "0."

She exhibits the symptoms of a condition known as "locked-in syndrome" It is the opposite of a vegetative state, where the upper brain is damaged, making a person unconscious, though their motor functions might be working.

In this case the upper brain is fine -- "the patient is aware and awake, but cannot move or communicate due to complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles in the body --" due to damage of the brain stem.

There is no standard treatment, no known cure, and it is extremely rare for motor function to return. Patients often have control of eye movements, and can communicate through them. But Hyeshik's eye control is not yet evident, though signs of improvement are there.

Today, though, it is poignantly clear that my wife is, in fact, conscious and aware. My children have all arrived, and she is s-o-o-o-o awake, her heart beating faster, her effort to respond obvious. She is listening so intently as we all sing and pray, and then her kids spend time with her one-by-one or two-by-two, sharing their hearts, reporting their achievements, singing, stroking, massaging.

I can see so clearly the difference -- in the first few days, when Dr. Yang or the Jenkins came, or when we played TP's singing tapes, or someone spoke in Korean, she would open her eyes and try to respond. But the last few days she has been more withdrawn and lethargic. Today, we can see and feel so obviously that Omma is with us mentally. It is both comforting and painful.

But there is also the beauty of her children's love and devotion. If there is anything that will move her or wake her, I cannot imagine any stronger Heavenly medicine than this. This miracle is already real -- the 4 beautiful human beings she has raised, and the bond of heart and appreciation that is more evident now than ever.

This is the greatest of her many fruits. How is it possible that I feel so much blessing and gratitude, so rich and fortunate, at this time of sorrow and difficulty? My beloved and precious Father is showering love upon me... teaching me so much about who I am, who my wife and I are, who my children are. We have already shared and experienced enough to fill several lifetimes... but I want more -- here and hereafter.

Unlike some have advised, I do not need to figure out why God "gave us this trial," or even believe that He did. I do not need to know that it is a purposeful condition for a greater good, but simply to offer it up and make it so.

I am truly grateful for the life that God and True Parents have blessed us with together, truly sorry (as I know Hyeshik is) that we could not be better stewards of that gift, and truly determined to preserve and restore it by any and all means.

Western medicine offers electric muscle stimulation and direct brain interface mechanisms which may restore function, and devices that allow enhanced communication using only eye muscles. We will explore acupuncture, massage and stimulation, energy, healing, and pray that God's will be done -- "...if it be possible, let this cup pass from me -- nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt."

Most of all, I thank God and True Parents for the education of heart and faith with which to embrace and digest this crisis, and harvest wisdom and growth from it. We were never promised an easy life, or a great marriage, or protection from pain (though I have been blessed with all these)... but we WERE given the internal tools of heart, faith and wisdom to do as our Father has done -- make every moment meaningful- harvest good from every up and down.

Much love and prayer,
The Schanker Family

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