Monday, March 10, 2008

Family fights to save burn victim

It has been reported on the Facebook website that Bill Kapoun has died. However his family still needs assistance in the form of donations to pay for medical expenses.

Family fights to save burn victim

Before third-degree burns on half his body turned his life upside down, Will Kapoun was not just any English teacher - he was a born natural.

"He has three younger brothers that just idolize him and being a teacher is something he really enjoyed. When he would come home from traveling, he would give them projects to do: research and presentations to the family on countries he visited," his mother, Judy Kapoun, said in an interview.

"He was just a born teacher," she added.

On Monday, Feb. 25, a fire tore through his Haebangchon, central Seoul, apartment. Details are still sketchy, but it is suspected the fire started inside the front entrance of his apartment from "a flammable liquid." No other apartments in his building were damaged and no one else was injured.

"We're concentrating on survival, we're not even close to thinking recovery," his mother said.

In his apartment itself, one bedroom was untouched by the fire as the door was shut, Judy told The Korea Herald. "But Will's bedroom and the living room are all totally charred and blistered. The fire and the heat must have been so incredibly intense."
Will, 26, is now in critical condition in an intensive care burn ward at a hospital in Seoul. "He has third-degree burns on over 64 percent of his body. His arms, chest, back, legs - basically the only thing not burned is his thighs," said his mother. "He is still extremely critical; as a matter of fact he took a turn for the worse (Wednesday)."

Will has been undergoing skin graft surgery since last week and had more work done on Monday. But his mother said that he doesn't have enough of his own skin left for more grafts. "He doesn't have enough of his own flesh left to transplant it, so they have to grow flesh in a Petri dish. We had to agree to the cost of that yesterday just to get them started on that."

Cost is another serious issue for the Kapouns. While Will was retroactively added to the Korean National Health Insurance program this week, it is only expected to offset a fraction of the total costs as it does not cover skin grafts. Each operation costs around $15,000. Treatment costs could reach around 145 million won ($150,000) or higher for injuries as bad as Will's.

A Medivac to a hospital in the United States will cost another $170,000. Judy said that Quick County Hospital in Chicago has agreed to take Will in and treat him at no cost to the family - but that they would be responsible for the $170,000 Medivac.
But at this point, said Judy, he is still fighting for his life, and will not be able to be transported for months.

Will is the oldest of five children - his youngest brother is just 12. A family friend in the United States, Abby Cox, explained: "The boys are at home in Alexandria, Indiana, with their grandmother, who is also undergoing cancer treatments."

"(Costs) keep mounting. He had to go on dialysis today and at one point we were given a figure of $150,000, but I think it's going to surpass that greatly because of complications," Judy said.

Will had been working at Bulam Elementary School as a part-time English instructor and was working under 15 hours a week. Under Korean law, employers are not on the hook for health insurance for part-time employees. "Part-time employees are not covered by mandatory health insurance," Brendan Carr, a foreign legal consultant with Hwang Mok Park law firm in Seoul.

Carr also said anyone legally residing in Korea is permitted to retroactively join Korea's national health insurance plan, but that they are liable to costs from the date of eligibility. "If you enroll late, be aware that the insured is required to ante up for all unpaid premiums as from the date of eligibility for cover - i.e., date of arrival. You don't get to buy insurance just when you need it."

So far, national health insurance has covered about 40 percent of the costs. "At this point right now, only about $20,000 of $55,000" has been made up by the insurance, noted Judy.

Responding fast to the family's plight, friends in both the United States and Korea have established financial support channels.

Laura, 22, Will's younger sister, is spearheading awareness and fundraising in the United States from her university in Bloomington, Indiana. With the help of friends, she set up, where online donations are being accepted from people in the United States.

"I needed a way to clearly state what happened to my brother and how people could help. The website has been able to do this," she said. So far, the website has raised about $19,000.

Kin Jin-uk, a family friend, told The Korea Herald a bank account has been established and is now taking donations from people residing in Korea. He noted that the Kookmin Bank account is for direct deposit donations. The account number is 794002-04-03-1635 and the holder name is "Warren Franklin-William Fund."

A blog has also been set up to provide regular updates on Will's condition: Fundraising events in Seoul are being planned and will be posted on the blog.

As the money slowly comes in, the Kapouns continue to fight alongside their son. Immediately after the devastating fire, his mother and father came to Korea to be at his side for as long as it takes.

"Will and I have always been really close. I am simply doing everything that I can to make sure that my brother is able to receive everything he needs to recover from this. I hope that people are able to see the human in this story and open their hearts to that," said Laura.

By Matthew Lamers 2008.03.07

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