Lia did not die, nor did she recover. She slept in her parents’ bed a slight, silent husk. She lay suspended in time, growing only a few inches, gaining little weight, always looking far younger than her age, while her six siblings grew up around her. There were a few tremors as the Lee children passed through adolescence, but never the rifts that American families accept almost as a matter of course. One of their daughters, True, once said that this was the “coolest family ever,” and she would never trade it for anything else in the world.
Because Foua’s and Nao Kao’s energies were waning, Jeanine Hilt eventually convinced them to allow Lia to attend the Schelby Center again, not to educate her, but to allow them some hours of respite. Because they trusted her, they agreed. While she was there, Dee Korda, Lia’s foster mother. Frequently saw her. She could hardly bear to look at the little girl. Her entire family had taken Lia’s neurological disaster hard.
Ironically, while Jeanine Hilt was vacationing at Disney World, she had an acute asthma attack, went into respiratory failure, and suffered oxygen deprivation so severe that she lost all brain function. She had suffered the exact same fate as Lia, only Jeanine died three days later. Foua said that when she heard Jenny was dead, her heart broke. She felt she had lost her American daughter. As for Neil Ernst and Peggy Philp, they developed an even greater understanding of the Lees when their own son developed leukemia. When Foua heard about their son’s disease, she hugged Peggy, and they shed a few tears. “Sorrow of motherhood cut through all cultural barriers.”
Unfortunately, since Lia’s brain death, whatever scant trust Foua and Nao Kao had once had in American medicine had shrunk almost to zero. Even when their daughter, May, broke her arm, they refused to allow the doctors in the ER to put it in a cast. Instead, they took her home, bathed the arm in herbs and wrapped it in a poultice for a week, and her arm regained its full strength! When Foua miscarried her seventeenth child, it took her falling unconscious on the floor before Nao Kao would consent to a D and C. Of course, he sacrificed twp pigs while she was in the hospital. After Lia was vaccinated, she began to develop occasional seizure-like twitches. As a result, the Lees told Neil Ernst that they didn’t want Lia immunized ever again, for anything. Dan Murphy once told the author that when you fail one Hmong family, you fail the whole community. “Lia’s case had confirmed the Hmong community’s worse prejudices about the medical profession and the medical community’s worst prejudices about the Hmong.”
However, at the hospital, Lia’s case metastasized into a mass of complaints that grew angrier with each passing year. Especially the nurses were angry that the Lees were so ungrateful for the $250,000 worth of care they received for free. They were angry that the Lees had been noncompliant and believed that Lia did not need to be in the state she was in. They believed the Lees just hadn’t given her the medication. However, the author knew that Foua and Nao Kao had given Lia the Depakene. Furthermore, Bill Selvidge insisted that medication probably had nothing to do with Lia’s final seizure. He believed that her brain had been destroyed by septic shock which was caused by the Pseudomonas bacillus in her blood. He had no idea how she had acquired it and probably never would, but he felt the bacillus caused the seizure and not the other way around. He also said that Lia’s parents’ noncompliance in the past had nothing to do with her final seizure. The Depakene might have compromised her immune system and made her more susceptible to the bacillus and that therefore, by following the doctors’ orders, they had set her up for septic shock. He ended his commentary by saying to the author, “Go back to Merced and tell all those people at MCMC that the family didn’t do this to the kid. We did.” She immediately realized that the Lees were right after all: Lia’s medicine did make her sick!