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Professor who survives burns all over her body

Posted May. 06, 2022 07:53,   

Updated May. 06, 2022 07:53


“Happy 20th birthday, Ji-sun!”

Professor Lee Ji-sun of School of Counseling Psychology and Social Welfare at Handong Global University received this text message from her brother on July 30 two years ago when she was 42 years old. She has two birthdays. July 30, 2000 was the day when she started a new life. Lee, then a college senior, had an accident on her way home in her brother’s car to get third-degree burns on 55 percent of her body. After having surgery more than 40 times, she quitted counting. She has lived in sufferings, patience and enlightenment for the past 20 years.

She had an interview with the Dong-A Ilbo on Wednesday at a café in Songpa District, southeastern Seoul. In 12 years after she published her 1st essay “Ji-sun, I Love You” in 2003, which sold 400,000 copies, she released her 4th essay “Pretty Good Happy Ending” last month. She talks about her journey of overcoming traumatic experiences following the accident and becoming a professor.

She was even thankful for not getting the whole arms amputated when she had surgery to get knucklebones of eight fingers excluding two thumbs cut off. When an artificial skin layer transplanted on her face melted down, she had to find an answer on her own to a question “Why is this happening to me?” Typing with her two thumbs to write on the computer, she began developing an objective viewpoint of what occurred to her.

“While writing my essay, I started looking objectively at this accident thinking that it happened due to the fault of someone with whom I have no relationship just as I bump into someone else’s shoulder walking on the street,” Lee said. “I am free from how others view the accident saying that it is all due to my karma or it is God’s will.”

Lee learned a truth that things that she took for granted had never been hers ever. She underwent a surgery a while ago for getting her nostrils widened as facial burns make the inner skin of the nose thicker. She writes in her book, “I am grateful that my nose can be runny again.”

“When I got cleansed all over my body with an antiseptic to treat burns at hospital, I was scared of splashing sounds on the floor. Three years later, it was not a big deal any more to me, thankfully,” she said. “I could even lie in peace while a scrub mistress was taking care of my body even with water splashing in a sauna. I felt extremely happy when I found that there is nothing that can be taken for granted in life.”

She hoped to give those socially marginalized a shoulder to lean on. Since 2019, she has been helping teenagers whose parents are in prison in cooperation with comedians Lee Seong-mi and Song Eun-I, former football player Lee Young-pyo and singer Sean.

“A ray of hope enables me to expect that my life will not end up with a sad ending even when I remain in complete despair in an inky darkness,” she said. “It is the hope that has guided me so far.”

Jae-Hee Kim jetti@donga.com