When the cold winter winds blow across the Korean peninsula, the flooded rice fields of Munsan, only a few miles away from the demilitarized zone, become solid patches of ice where laughing children skate.
It was there, on one of her grandfather's fields, that Hui Chong Kim learned to speed skate and dreamed of becoming an Olympic star. Resting now in a split-entry home in Roy, she views the medals, photographs and certificates of past victories. Her race is now with life itself and her dream is to see the grandparents that raised her before she reaches the finish line.Hui Chong, 15, has Ewing's sarcoma, a rapidly spreading form of malignant cancer that has caused painful lumps. It has eaten away at bones and appeared in her lungs, said her doctor, Blair Bybee, an oncologist at Primary Children's Medical Center.
"She used to dream of being a speed skater and getting a gold medal. Now she can't even walk," her mother, Sunah Orwan, said. She left Korea eight years ago to attend Brigham Young University.
Her mother and stepfather, Jerry Orwan, had been fighting for several years to get Hui Chong to the United States. The girl was only allowed to leave Korea six months ago when the Orwans learned of her illness, flew to Korea and obtained a special visa from the U.S. Embassy. Since that time Hui Chong has been receiving chemotherapy treatments every three weeks at Primary Children's Medical Center, causing the loss of hair and leaving her weak and ill.
"Last time we were at the hospital she told me, `No more chemotherapy,' " Sunah said holding back the tears. " `I know you have asked me to fight, but I cannot fight any more,' " she said.
Bybee said time is growing short for Hui Chong and her disease prevents her from traveling to South Korea. So her grandparents must come to the United States for her to fulfill her dream. Her grandfather, Ung Won Kim, suffered a stroke after he heard of Hui Chong's illness and will not likely be able to make the trip. Her grandmother, Rae Bong Cho, is able to make the trip, but red tape at the U.S. Embassy has been difficult to wade through, said Jerry Orwan.
Bette Mellinger, a Roy resident and volunteer with Make-A-Wish Foundation, has been trying to help the family.
"This is the most unusual case we have ever had. Most children want to go to Disneyland. Some have wanted a sewing machine or wanted to visit a professional wrestler. This has been the most difficult," Mellinger said.
Hui Chong, sitting in front of certificates indicating she was a "model student" in the Korean school system and excelled in gym and science, said she had no greater desire than to see her grandparents. Disneyland wasn't an option.
"I lived with her for 14 years," she said of her 69-year-old grandmother.
Mellinger said a friend suggested she ask for help from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' missions in Korea. She made a contact with President Mark Peterson of the Pusan LDS Mission on Jan. 22. Working from the opposite end of the country, he has contacted U.S. Embassy officials and made arrangements for Cho to get all of the necessary paperwork completed, Mellinger said.
Mellinger said she hopes Hui Chong's grandmother can be on a plane within a week. An American airline that flies into Korea will likely give a free plane ticket to Cho once the paperwork is completed. It would be the first plane ride for the elderly woman.
Meanwhile, friends have been rallying around Hui Chong and her family. Fellow students from Sandridge Junior High School make daily visits and neighbors have offered support to the family.
"I like America. I love Utah and all of my friends here," Hui Chong said.
A friend visiting Hui Chong Tuesday night echoed the feeling.
"We all hope she will be around next year," she said.