An airport is an unlikely place to fulfill a dream, but it didn't matter to a girl stricken with terminal cancer, who was holding on to life long enough to be reunited with her Korean grandmother.
Hui Chong Kim, 15, clung tightly to Rae Bong Cho, 69, in a room at the Salt Lake International Airport on Monday afternoon as tears streamed down her face. For Hui Chong, painful chemotherapy treatments at Primary Children's Medical Center have ended, and the cancer spreads unchecked. Its pain is numbed only by periodic injections of morphine.For a determined Rae Bong Cho, tears over the bittersweet reunion had come earlier while gazing from a plane into the surrealistic scene of cloud cover and blue skies above Oregon. In the presence of her granddaughter she held back the sadness.
"I can't even cry now," said Cho. "I am so happy to see her, yet so sad."
Hui Chong suffers from Ewing's sarcoma, a fast-spreading form of cancer that is eating away at her bones and lungs. Doctors have given her little time to live.
Through Make-A-Wish Foundation she had requested to see her grandparents. Bette Mellinger, a Roy resident and Make-A-Wish volunteer, said the wish was one of the most difficult the organization has ever dealt with. In addition to the $1,000-plus price tag for a plane ticket, Mellinger had to deal with intransigent South Korean and U.S. immigration officials.
Sunah Orwan, Hui Chong's mother and Cho's daughter, said the scene Monday afternoon seemed unreal.
"I know I am in a dream. I still can't believe that she is here," she said. She came to Utah eight years ago to study at BYU.
Hui Chong was raised by her grandmother in Munsan, northwest of Seoul and near the demilitarized zone that divides the Korean peninsula. It wasn't until seven months ago that Hui Chong was brought to the United States by her mother and stepfather, Jerry Orwan, to receive medical treatment.
"How can I say thank you. Thank you so much for everything," Hui Chong said, sobbing.
Monday morning in the Portland International Airport, the grandmother reminisced about the girl she had raised as a daughter. She talked proudly of the five gold medals Hui Chong won in area speed skating competitions and of the commendations she received in gym class.
She also explained the gift she carefully guarded on the plane - a special tea brewed from tree bark that grows in mountains near her home. The tea, a form of hanyak or Korean folk medicine, will help cleanse Hui Chong's system.
Cho, whose family fled North Korea during the Korean War, said she was nervous about the condition of her granddaughter and also about her (Cho's) husband, Ung Won Kim. He was unable to travel to America and will enter a Korean hospital this week to receive treatment for a stroke. Relatives are taking care of him while she is the United States.