||One day at the beach was all it took to turn Suzy Kims 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 isnt Suzy Kims 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 patients side of health care that, she says, will ultimately make her a better physician.
Its 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 its 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 didnt lose feeling in her lower body, she ends each day with aches and tingles akin to what youd feel after riding in a car for 10 hours.
But she faces the daily challenges with stamina and optimism.
Its all relative, she says. My problem isnt any bigger than anyone elses 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 Im not ready to go down without a fight.
Its not like I have a broken arm and theres a clear-cut prognosis, she says. But there are people with similar injuries who are walking now. Thats the hill Im climbing. Its like Im an athlete preparing for a race. Im preparing for the day my body recovers.