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A boy`s story recovering from devastating traffic accident

A boy`s story recovering from devastating traffic accident

Posted May. 09, 2013 04:22,   


The Dong-A Ilbo visited a private rehabilitation center in Mangwon-dong in Seoul’s Mapo district at 2:40 p.m. last Thursday. A therapist picked up a red pencil and brought it to right before the eyes of Hong Hyeon-joon.

“Look at this only until I count to 20. You can do it, right? One, two….”

His mother lifted Hyeon-joon’s eyelids with her fingers, so that he can look. His right pupil shivered. As if biting the bullet, he applied strain on his eyes. His right pupil would turn to the left repeatedly, as he seemed to have difficulties looking into the colored pencil in front of his eyes. When counting exceeded 16, the 11-year-old boy did not even make sound of breathing. Since he applied strain throughout his body, his chin shivered and the rims of his ears had drops of sweat.

"Twenty." After a brief groan, he fell onto the desk as if collapsing.

○ Doomed day: February 1, 2010

It happened at 1 p.m. Monday, Feb. 1, 2010, when the sky was exceptionally clear and blue. It occurred at the bus stop in front of Seoul National University College of Education-affiliated elementary school in Dongsung-dong in Seoul’s Jongno district. Hyeon-joon, then first grader at Hyehwa Elementary School got off a village shuttle bus. He was on his way home after school finished. Walking along a neighborhood alley by the school, he spotted a herd of children in front of a stationary shop. Toy vending machines and game machines installed on the street were always popular among children. Wearing hooded jacket, he stopped walking and squeezed in among others.

In a school zone where pedestrian path is not separated from road, cars were running fast right behind the children. Hyeon-joon had his eyes glued to the screen of a game machine. Then, something hit Hyeon-joon`s head. It was a sport utility vehicle. As his clothes were hooked by the vehicle, he was dragged on the ground. The car only stopped after hearing passers-by screaming.

Some 30 minutes later, his mother, Yoon Mi-hyeon (then 43), rushed to the emergency room at Seoul National University Hospital upon getting a phone call at her work. Having suffered head injury, her son lost consciousness, with blood sheds scattered on the sheet cover of his bed. Yoon fainted.

Hyeon-joon’s doctor mentioned "the worst-case scenario." The tragic accident damaged the young boy’s small brain. It is an important organ that is responsible for athletic nerves, emotion, optic nerves, and intelligence. However, the doctor said due to concentration of nerves, they could not give him open-brain surgery, citing possible secondary damage. The mother could only wish for a miracle in which her son would recover from that situation.

As in any other traffic accidents involving children, the driver who caused the accident told police, “I failed to see the boy at the site of the accident.” His mother was well aware of the site. It was a place where cars and children would perilously pass by, mingled each other. She never expected such tragedy would strike her own son.

Two months later, Hyeon-joon regained consciousness. But he couldn`t open his eyes and move even a single finger. He was given Grade 1 (most severe) disability by doctors.

○ My son, you should walk again without fail

Yoon quit her job and solemnly renewed the commitment. She only had a single goal in her mind. “My son, I will make you walk again without fail.”

In early 2011, the mother decided to leave the hospital as Hyeon-joon’s condition improved a bit. She also let him return to Hyehwa Elementary School. With Hyeon-joon in wheelchair, she started tough daily journey, taking him to school, hospital, and rehabilitation center. They had no weekend. Due to after-effect of the accident, Hyeon-joon lost the ability to control emotion. He frequently got furious and lashed out violent language.

“No, I won’t. I want to die!” the boy shouted. But the mother sternly refuted. “If you don’t follow, you are dead!”

It was a ruthless period of time. While taking rehabilitation therapy, Hyeon-joon sweated in the body and the mother shed tears of blood in her mind. Their painstaking efforts eventually paid off. In January 2012, about two years after the accident, Hyeon-joon miraculously stood on his own two legs.

○ Daily routine completely changed for good

Yoon wakes up at 7 every morning. She wakes up Hyeon-joon at 7:50. Her husband goes to work after eating bread and milk she bought the previous day.

The mother drives him to school. At lunch time, she goes to school again. She puts side-dish on spoonful of rice from school meal, and serves him in the mouth. On days when side-dishes are not juicy, she has to put rice into soup and serve Hyeon-joon so that he can easily swallow. After eating lunch, his friends go out to the playground, but Hyeon-joon should always continue chewing, with his meal plate still on the table.

After school is over, the son and the mother start “exercise” in earnest. For an hour, they conduct rehabilitation therapy, which Hyeon-joon improves physical functions using tools. Then, they move to Kim Tae-yoon Childhood Athletic Development Institute, a professional rehabilitation treatment organization in Seoul’s Mapo district. “When he came here for the first time in wheelchair, he could not even crawl,” said Therapist Jeong Mi-na, who has helped him with the treatment for the second year. “He started walking about a year later, and it took 40 minutes to rotate a living room measuring 5 meters across. It is a miracle that he stands and walks on his two feet.”

His peers would be learning English, painting and taekwondo for after-school activities. But Hyeon-joon should learn how to open his eyes, how to stand on his two feet, and how to walk, biting the bullet. When rehabilitation treatment is over, the sun starts to set but they cannot go home directly. They run around the school grounds. It is part of his promise with the mother. Hyeon-joon slowly runs along the track amid dusk. Seen from the back, he looks like a drunken man, who is about to fall down. The mother slowly runs after him.

The site of the accident, which completely changed the life of a boy and his mother, remains unchanged. No safety facility has been installed. Children run in-between cars, and play games, crouching on the road in front of the stationery shop. Behind them are cars that speed away like the day when Hyeon-joon got the accident.

According to statistics from the Road Traffic Authority, 3,028 children under age 12 have suffered injuries, big and small, due to traffic accidents at school zones, as Hyeon-joon has, from 2007 to 2011.