The Words of the Schanker Family

Hyeshik Schanker Needs Your Support

Phillip Schanker
September 10, 2007

Dear Family and Friends,

This Email is to update you concerning the medical situation of my wife, Hyeshik Schanker, who is currently hospitalized in Summit, NJ after lapsing into unconsciousness while visiting there. She is not yet conscious, but her vital functions are OK, she is breathing on her own, and she is not currently in a life-threatening situation.

For the few of you who are already aware of this situation, Part II and beyond will serve as an update as of 5:00 PM Monday, September 10, 2007. For those who are hearing about this for the first time, please forgive that I did not communicate until now. It is simply because we expected the situation to be further resolved before now. While we certainly have reason to hope for and expect Hyeshik's full recovery, we are both letting you know what is happening and asking for your prayer, support and "good vibes."


On Friday evening, Sept. 7, my wife was in New Jersey. She had apparently pulled into a gas station parking area to rest from the day's long drive from Maryland (a 4 - 5 hour trip that she makes 2 - 4 times per month). The station attendant noticed that she was there for some time, and approached the car to observe (the car was not running).

He saw that she was breathing shallowly and rapidly, as if hyperventilating. He rapped on the car to awaken her, but saw her eyes roll backward, exposing the whites, and he called for an ambulance. The timing apparently saved her life. The Union County, NJ found her with little or no pulse, unconscious and unresponsive, and showing symptoms of a possible seizure (twitching, etc.).

They brought her to Overlook Hospital in Summit around 8:00 or 8:30 PM, which has a specialized Neurological Center and is affiliated with nearby Morristown Hospital, which specializes in coronary care.

Hyeshik was quickly stabilized, intubated (placed on a breathing tube) and given medication to prevent seizure activity. Her heart rate and breathing were extremely fast, and other indications made seizure a concern.

Her ID cell phone was located early Saturday morning, and they called me at home. My daughter Mi-ae (a nursing student) and I arrived at the hospital from Maryland by midday. In the meantime I provided background and details concerning my wife's medical history, which helped the physicians narrow their search for the causes.

In the meantime, a CAT scan of the brain showed NO EVIDENCE of brain damage, swelling, or stroke. A coordinated video and EEG monitor of her brain-activity was set up, to watch for any signs of seizure activity. This monitor shows near-normal brain activity (just slightly slowed, which could be simply from medication or trauma).

Although my wife has had no recent complaints of headaches, tiredness of discomfort, in 1986 she was diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse [], the most common heart condition in the USA, affecting 2% of adults.

The mitral valve, between the left atrium (upper chamber) and left ventricle (lower chamber) of the heart, thickens and does not fully close, resulting in the possibility of some backflow of blood into the left atrium.

It is normally harmless, and does not shorten or threaten life in most cases, so treatment or lifestyle changes are not normally recommended. The 2 main dangers, I understand, are the potential of clots forming in the pooled, non-moving blood, which might be thrown by the heart to another part of the body (including the brain -- danger of stroke), and the causing of the less-efficient heart to overwork, leading to arrythmias or even heart failure. Again, this is extremely rare.

In Hyeshik's case, we rejected the prescribed blood-thinners in 1986, which would have prevented us from having any more children (Joshua and David, to be specific). Instead, we used fish-oil and 1/2 aspirin per day for several years, to assist in keeping the blood thin. We have long-since stopped that treatment.


Once I arrived on Saturday, in consultation with her caregivers, we stopped Hyeshik"s sedation medicine, normally given to keep her asleep while her body and brain restores itself, and to allow her to keep the breathing tube in her throat. We also stopped the medicine to prevent seizure activity, in order to see if her brain function would remain normal without it, which it has (hallelujah!).

We determined yesterday that she can breathe on her own, so the tube remains only to protect her airways or any incident such as being unable to cough or regurgitate while unconscious. It seems that it was NOT a seizure that caused this.

An Echocardiogram shows that the mitral valve has extremely poor function. Most probably, surgery will be required to repair or replace the valve. Blood indicators which initially showed trauma and stress in the heart have returned to normal levels. But before addressing any of the heart issues, we must get my wife conscious and discover if there is any hidden or yet-undiscovered brain damage. That is our current goal and focus.

The brain monitor was removed temporarily to allow for an MRI of her brain and a 2nd test which together will give us a fuller, deeper picture of what is happening neurologically. My beloved continues to progress toward consciousness. Once Mi-ae and I arrived on Saturday she began to move her shoulders and legs and open her eyes briefly, in a way that nurses said had not happened until then.

What they did not know was that I observed her begin that activity from the time Mi-ae and I arrived at the nurses station, looking into her room from a short distance. She was clearly aroused at least by our voices, and possibly more deeply by our presence.

Our Omma has clearly been responsive to sound and touch, opening her eyes when we call her or ask her to wake up. She keeps her eyes open now for long periods, though conscious, purposeful acknowledgement is not yet there. Mi-ae and I have been singing to her, praying with her, pouring out our hearts to her. Mi-ae has been reading in Korean, though she returned to school in Baltimore last night.

Today I once again poured out my heart to her, explaining all that is happening and how the things and people she might worry about are being cared for. I certainly saw and felt her response, though it is hard to tell to what degree -- sound or sense. But it is not at all unreasonable to expect that she can hear and feel much more than she can communicate.

More than 2 days without waking up is worrisome, but more than 4 - 5 days clearly suggests a long process with less hope for full recovery of consciousness and function. Today is Hyeshik's 3rd day unconscious.


Most probably, doctors believe that a coronary event, probably a strong arrythmia (irregular heartbeat) and likely caused by the faulty valve and overworked heart, led to a lack of oxygenated blood to my wife's brain (hypoxia), causing unconsciousness (as well as the rapid breathing and high heart rate).

Since no brain damage has been observed, she can breathe on her own, and her brain function is near normal, it is most likely that the hypoxia totally disturbed the brain's equilibrium chemically and electrically, and she is struggling to get it back to normal function.

There is still a possibility that a clot was formed in the heart and ended in the brain, causing this problem and preventing recovery, but that should already have been apparent from tests already performed.

Today's MRI and contrast tests will give us a much clearer evaluation, and a better opportunity to detect damage or dysfunction. I am waiting to see the neurologists for answers. The question remains whether something as yet unseen is there, as we have no idea of how long her brain was deprived of Oxygen initially, and hypoxia and brain function has its mystery. This is a good hospital but not the best one. The next 24 - 48 hours will be the most crucial time of evaluation and decision. We are counting on your support and prayers.


Once this occurred, I reflected that it is not surprising that this misfortune has come our way -- internally, we have been so richly blessed and fortunate in every way -- with our children's achievements and growth as people -- marriages, scholarships, etc., our increasingly happy and bonded marriage and family, my deep fulfillment in what I do, etc.

It has been so good that its almost unfair. Practically, Hyeshik works so hard and bears much stress, but has avoided exercise and run from doctors and resisted check-ups, not wanting bad news. Though advised to check her heart continually and that she might need surgery on it at some point, she clearly fears surgery, and so refused check-ups. I have of course been thinking about all I could have done differently and should have prepared for.

But even this challenge has been filled with Blessing... the fortunate process that saved her from death last Friday; the wholehearted response of my Family Federation leaders and staff -- the few I have shared with until now (Dr. Yang called within minutes of my 1st email sat. morning -- he and Rev. and Mrs. Jenkins have been so close to us during this time -- the Jenkins visited yesterday... it was such a deep, close, family connection -- we've been through so much and share the same hopes, dreams and commitments); and of course, I realize like never before how precious this person is to me... who has been a witness to my life, someone to whom I have mattered, and someone who matters so much to me, who put my life and family together and held it together.

My children, I know, feel the same. Even as I am asking her to come back to me now... that we have so much more to share together on this earth, I can also truly feel, more than ever before, that we are an ETERNAL Blessed couple in front of God... this is not my belief, but what is there, what we have built and how we relate.

It is not a faith I need to cling to, but an incredible perspective on our relationship that this crisis fosters. It does not eliminate the fear, the hurt or the worry and loss, but organizes and connects it to the bigger meaning and great value. I am praying that we have the chance to use this lesson well, and live more together on earth. Omma, I do love you with all my heart, more now than ever.

She means so much to so many -- let us send her all our love and support.

Phillip Schanker and family

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