Moving On - A Brain Hemorrhage Stole Yong Soon Min's Ability to Express Herself Through Art and Words - But Only for a While
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Los Angeles - April 24, 2015 - Yong Soon Min checked herself out of a South Korea hospital, but with slurred speech and a mixed-up vocabulary, she could not resume her Fulbright-funded research project. Friends and family implored her to return home to Los Angeles. When she finally relented, Cedars-Sinai doctors found and repaired a hemorrhaging tangle of blood vessels in the artist's brain.
In Seoul to study the role of women in Korean drama, Min went to the hospital when excruciating headaches struck. Doctors ran tests, studied images of her brain and gave the University of California, Irvine professor medications for pain. After a week with no clear answers, Min decided to move on. But her thought and communication processes decided otherwise.
"I switched a lot of things, didn't stay on one subject for very long, and mixed up a lot of words. ‘Diaspora' became ‘diarrhea.' When I wanted to say ‘pyramid,' I said ‘pizza,'" she said, adding that her memory wasn't as sharp as before.
At first, she wanted to stay and finish the Fulbright study, but when she finally gave in and came home, her brother and friends helped her scour the Internet for top specialists. They found Steven Sykes, MD, neurologist, neurophysiologist and assistant clinical professor in the Cedars-Sinai Department of Neurology.
As a series of tests and scans began to focus on the cluster of blood vessels – an arteriovenous malformation, or AVM – Sykes referred Min to Michael Alexander, MD, professor and vice chair of the Department of Neurosurgery and director of the Neurovascular Center.
AVMs, which occur in 1 percent of the population, are areas where arteries connect directly to veins, and they are susceptible to hemorrhaging. This can deprive part of the brain of normal blood flow and oxygen, and escaped blood can pool, creating pressure that injures other areas of the brain, even at a distance from the rupture.
Alexander said it is not uncommon for the source of a hemorrhage to elude detection for a while, as it did in Min's case.
"A little bit of bleeding can temporarily obscure visualizing the blood vessel malformation. When she came to us, her MRI definitely showed blood. She may have had a small amount of bleeding in Korea, which continued, and by the time she got here, it was bigger – a small malformation, but a relatively large bleed," Alexander said.
He and Min discussed several treatment options before settling on surgery, which offered the possibility of an immediate cure. Using intraoperative, 3-D, computer-guided imaging, Alexander was able to remove the AVM, and cerebral angiograms performed right after surgery and again a year later showed no evidence of recurrence."
Min said the care she received at Cedars-Sinai and the surgery performed by Alexander made it possible for her to return to South Korea a year later to complete her Fulbright research, but picking back up where the AVM forced her to leave off hasn't been easy.
"The brain bleed, as I call it, made me kind of stop for a couple of years. I'm just now getting back to the studio to think about what I want to do next," she said, adding that it may have something to do with language, communication and connections in the brain.
After her treatment at Cedars-Sinai, Min resumed teaching, but she plans to retire soon and devote more time to creative pursuits.
About Yong Soon Min
In her art and teaching, Yong Soon Min often explores discrimination, civil unrest, political divide, women's rights and Korean history.
The University of California, Irvine, professor's creativity, which has been displayed in exhibitions around the world, has taken many forms, including film, sculpture and video. In 2010, funded by a Fulbright research grant, she returned to her homeland, South Korea, for a 10-month study of the gender role of women in Korean drama.
The Seoul hospital where she was first seen is not far from where she spent the first years of her life with her mother and older brother, Dae. The trio joined her father in Northern California when she was 7. But those early memories of South Korea fed the curiosity and imagination of an artist in the making.
She earned a bachelor's degree and two master's degrees in the 1970s at the University of California, Berkeley. But her career may have been more powerfully influenced by campus visits in the 1960s when her brother attended the school. As she watched the U.S. civil rights movement unfold, she recognized parallels in her home country. The similarities came into sharper focus when she went to New York City to study at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
"New York opened my eyes to many Asian-American arts organizations," she said. "That's where I picked up my Asian-American consciousness."