Obit of the Day: Quag Dab Peg*
On the day before Thanksgiving in 1986, four-year-old Lia Lee had a grand mal seizure. Throughout her short life Lia had already suffered hundreds of small seizures due to her epilepsy. This was worse. It lasted two hours and when it finally ended her doctors thought she was brain dead. Her parents, Foua Yang and Nao Kao Lee, brought their daughter home to die. But when her feeding tube was removed Lia cried out. She would live another 26 years.
Lia Lee would remain immobile and non-verbal for the rest of her life in a persistent vegetative state. What was remarkable was her ability to survive in that state for more than a quarter century under the care of her father (who died in 2003), mother, and sisters.
Lia Lee’s case entered the public consciousness with the release of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, written by Anne Fadiman in 1997. The book not only chronicles Lia Lee’s medical condition but provides a cultural and historical guide to the Hmong people of Laos, the Lee’s country of origin. Fadiman’s book also took a hard look at the conflicts between Hmong attitudes and beliefs of medicine (epilepsy was a considered a spiritual defect rather than a physical problem) and American medical practice. The book earned the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Lia Lee, the youngest of fourteen children, would never again leave her home in Sacramento and passed away at the age of 30 in August 31, 2012.
* Quag Dab Peg is Hmong for epilepsy. When translated literally, it means “the spirit catches you, and you fall down,” hence the title of Ms. Fadiman’s book.
Sources: Sacramento Bee, Seven Days (Vermont’s Independent Voice), and wikipedia
(Image is copyright of Macmillan Publishing)