Expat hails foreign community spirit

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Dec 9, 2014 - 21:17
  • Updated : Dec 9, 2014 - 21:17

A Seoul expat has hailed the local expat community for their support after she was diagnosed with a medical condition.

Kim Jung-ah, who has a desmoid tumor, says the volunteering and fund-raising efforts were testament to a bond between expats here.

Although they are not cancerous, desmoid tumors can grow locally and cause pain. They also often repeatedly grow back after removal.

Her condition is rare and only a handful of doctors specialize in the field here. After bad experiences with treatment, she has decided to return to her home state of Texas to get a treatment plan at MD Anderson, one of the leading hospitals for the condition.

But even without starting treatment, the plan will cost $25,000.

Since she set up a website ― with some help ― to accept financial assistance for the bills, she said that 90 percent of the money she had received was from expats past and present.

“Even if they are not in Korea they are still giving,” said Kim. “I think everybody who has experienced living in Korea has a special bond that will never be broken and the fact that people are no longer living in Korea are still giving financially as well as socially is so powerful.”

Grace Johnson, who helped start the fundraising efforts, agreed.

“In an expat community people generally make friends quickly and they make deep friendships even if they are quite transient,” she said. “We make good friendships and we know that we take care of each other as we’re away from our home countries and families.”

Johnson helped set up the first fund-raiser, a cabaret musical night, telling Kim it was in aid of Samdong International, a local charity, and a friend who needed help with medical bills.

Kim performed in the event without realizing she was the aforesaid friend. Johnson said that she thought not being open about the recipient was the only way to get her support.

As someone who prided herself on her self-sufficiency, Kim saw herself as someone who should be on the giving end.

“That’s why it was pride-swallowing to set up a website to accept a large donation fund,” she said.

“I had volunteered so much for battered women and human trafficking (charities) and children in impoverished areas that don’t have the means to raise this money. I do work and I am very thankful for that but I guess I know that the medical bills are overwhelming.”

Kim says she has come to think that learning to love yourself and accept help is as important as physical heath.

“I didn’t know how to receive, and I think it is a mental issue that I have to work on and we all have to work on.”

Kim was keen to point out that donations come in various forms.

“Whether it’s a $10 donation or a $1,000 donation or simply taking 10 minutes to write me an encouraging, supportive letter, it means the world to me,” she said.

Some of this has involved organizing events, including a second fund-raiser on Nov. 29 organized by Johnson, Amy Hayashi and Rydia Kim, as well as logistical support and last-minute work on her website.

Orielvis Padron, whose Giant Productions sometimes does work on websites, said that it was a rush, but felt it would be more effective to donate his skills than just money.

“And I think that more importantly for her, she felt like she can trust me,” he said.

“It’s not that she helped me in the past because I don’t think I had the opportunity, but as far as I know if it were me she would also (help) 100 percent. So it’s not a big decision to help her because she is actually a giving person.”

And Kim credits Suji Park, owner of Suji’s restaurant, with helping her get a proper diagnosis.

When she decided to go back to the U.S. in 2012 she decided to get an MRI scan done in Korea, where the bills are lower, on the tumor diagnosed as benign the previous year. But she was told that her lump had been misdiagnosed, and was actually a desmoid tumor.

After Kim confided over her situation, Park helped her get a consultation with a specialist at Seoul National University Hospital.

Despite her experience of misdiagnosis and dissatisfaction with the provision for desmoid tumors, Kim is quite positive about the Korean health system overall, particularly the Korea Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service, which she says helped her recover costs that she should not have had to pay.

Kim’s website also contains links to information on desmoid tumors, for which she would like to help raise awareness. She acknowledges that it was difficult for laypeople to do anything directly to protect themselves, but general awareness that tumors could be desmoid could help prevent misdiagnosis. For more information, visit

By Paul Kerry (