Personal Best


Medical student Suzy Kim faces her daily challenges with strength and optimism.

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Personal Best: Med Student Suzy Kim

A Way with Words: Percival Everett

In Print: Harry Truman and the News Media

The Tenderest Trojan: 14-year old student Natasha Lewis

Suzy Kim
One day at the beach was all it took to turn Suzy Kim’s life upside down.
A year ago, she was a third-year medical student at USC with a bright career ahead. Then a freak accident put her whole future in jeopardy.
On a visit to Laguna Beach in November 1997, while she was body surfing with friends, Kim was swept up by a wave and slammed headfirst into a sandbar. In the aftermath, she retained feeling in her lower body, but her spine had been badly injured and doctors predicted she would be a quadriplegic. When her mother died from cancer a short time later, Kim faced deep depression and an uncertain future.
But despair isn’t Suzy Kim’s style.
She tackled the dilemma as she would a marathon, throwing herself into a tough, painful regimen of physical therapy that continues to this day. Within months she had regained full use of her hands and arms and some use of the muscles in her back and abdomen.
She has learned to walk with braces and a walker. And in the fall, she returned to her studies at the School of Medicine.

She also found herself fighting her insurance provider. The company refused to cover the cost of her wheelchair. After a lengthy letter-writing and telephone campaign, Kim emerged victorious.
And she got more than a wheelchair for her efforts: she also gained valuable insight into the patient’s side of health care that, she says, will ultimately make her a better physician.
“It’s been a very eye-opening experience. I hope to help patients in that way, to be more of an advocate.
“I definitely gained a whole different perspective and new insight on what it means to be a doctor,” she says. “I wish that was something they taught in medical school, but unfortunately I think it’s something most people learn on their own.”
After a long – and painful – day in her wheelchair, Kim looks forward to her nightly workouts. Because she didn’t lose feeling in her lower body, she ends each day with aches and tingles akin to what you’d feel after riding in a car for 10 hours.
But she faces the daily challenges with stamina and optimism.
“It’s all relative,” she says. “My problem isn’t any bigger than anyone else’s problem. The way a person is defined is how she reacts to the situation. Sure, there are times when I want to dig a hole and disappear. But I’m not ready to go down without a fight.
“It’s not like I have a broken arm and there’s a clear-cut prognosis,” she says. “But there are people with similar injuries who are walking now. That’s the hill I’m climbing. It’s like I’m an athlete preparing for a race. I’m preparing for the day my body recovers.”


Phil Davis




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