Cheating death past diagnosis

Given only hours to live, Joel Wong survives life-threatening aneurysm


Stephany Jara

Joel Wong poses with his daughters, Karen and Kelsie, alongside wife Brenda.

The sun sets in the backyard. Shadows dance on the house as Joel and his daughters, Kelsie and Karen, play soccer as his wife Brenda cheers them on. With only a few minutes left till sundown, Joel dribbles the ball with ease down the yard and kicks the ball into the goal, marking the end of the Wong family’s soccer game. Although the family ended the evening with laughter and joy, tragedy would strike in the morning.

Brenda Wong found her husband, Joel Wong, on the edge of the bathtub unable to recognize his surroundings on Aug. 27, 2011 around 7 a.m. Frightened that something terrible had happened to Joel, Brenda recited a silent prayer as she rushed to call 911. Paramedics crowded the house as they hauled Joel away to the hospital.

Later, they discovered he had suffered from an aneurysm and a stroke, which is when a vein explodes in the brain and drains blood. Due to the severity of his injuries, he was in a coma for a month.

“When we found him in the restroom, he was on the floor,” senior Kelsie Wong said. “He was in the shower, he fell. We called the ambulance, turns out he had a stroke which left him not being able to know his surroundings. He doesn’t remember anything.”

Because Joel’s injuries were so severe, doctors were unsure if he’d survive the night. Joel’s family was told he only had hours to live. Even if Joel did survive, there was a large chance that he would be a ‘vegetable.’

“I felt devastated,” Kelsie said. “I didn’t know what to do but at the same time I felt a relief in me because I knew he was going to be OK.”

Four months later, Joel was released from the hospital but still had a long ways to go through rehabilitation. Meanwhile, Brenda prepared the house to accommodate Joel’s new needs. She would have to make the house wheelchair friendly and modify all the bathrooms into handicapped bathrooms.

“I had to go for three months to rehab to start working, speaking and walking,” Joel said. “[There was] a driving test that I had to take again to learn how to drive. I couldn’t pass it, so it took me a while.”

Even though Joel can still drive, work, speak and walk, there are still movements his body simply cannot do anymore. His entire left side is completely numb, making everyday tasks increasingly difficult or impossible.

“He’s [recovered about] 98 percent [of his abilities],” Brenda said. “His 2 percent doesn’t help him because he’s not able to run anymore. When he tries to play [soccer or basketball] with the church he tries to run and he forgets and he falls all the time.”

Despite everything, Joel and his family are extremely grateful for his recovery and for the support given by the members of their church, who made the home improvements possible. Originally only supposed to remove the carpet, the church volunteers decided to surprise Joel and make improvements to the whole house including painting and cleaning it.

“He’s still alive,” Brenda said. “It doesn’t matter how he is. He’s not fully recovered. He’s moody because [he’s not able to do everything he used to and it] is frustrating for him. But he’s alive and he’s still with [his daughters] guiding them. Even though it wasn’t a good experience, I had the support from the church and from family. That [support] made me keep on going.”