From his high school robot-building competitions to his at first-sight love affair with the Museum of Flight in Seattle, I spent the day hearing stories of how Jason Wong first decided to be involved in airplane design. Wong never planned on leaving Washington; he was born and raised in this house, both his mother and father still live here and his next door neighbor still hops the fence to play video games. “Why would I want to start that over in another city?” he asked me. After graduating from the University of Washington with a degree in Aerospace Engineering, Wong became a front-running candidate for many jobs in the aeronautical field and intended to eventually attend graduate school. That was the plan until a tragic day in December.
On December 12, Wong pulled into his driveway after retrieving his parents from their vacation cruise in the Caribbean. Wong and his father were unloading the baggage from the car’s trunk. Fishtailing recklessly in the distance roared a black Chevy Corvette speeding directly towards the Wong residence. Instinctively, Wong first pushed his father to the ground before jumping out of harm’s way. The car crashed into father and son, severely injuring the father, and crushing the legs of the son.
“When I looked down I saw that my left leg was, um, detached from my thigh,” recalled the 22 year-old. Despite the horrid realization of his detached limb, Wong’s first reaction was to check on his father. “I was in pain of course, but my father was the very first thing I looked for. My dad—he’s really old—and for him to have a vacation is very rare. It’s like, you don’t really care about yourself; you care about who you love.“
Amazingly, Wong remained lucid enough to call 911 and conscious enough to stay awake. After what felt to be a lifetime, Wong was eventually sent to the nearest hospital, underwent nine surgeries, and awoke four days later to find himself in a hospital bed with a broken right leg and his left—amputated below the knee.
The driver, 50-year-old Rodney Dean James, had a breath alcohol content of 0.19, more than twice the legal limit in the state of Washington. James pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular assault and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
“It’s a travesty,” says Jimmy Wong, Jason’s older brother, in regards to the proposed sentence. Jimmy, an IBM programmer, took leave from his job and young wife to come help the family. “To tell me that what we went through, what we’re going through and what we’re going to go through is only worth two and a half years of this guy’s life isn’t right.”
But despite the apparent leniency of the proposed sentence, Wong was merely grateful to be back at home with family, rather than the limited visiting schedule in the hospital—although he still received anywhere from 4-5 visitors a day during his recovery—a testament to how loved this young man is.
“After this kind of experience you realize how much you mean to people and it’s heartwarming,” Wong tells me. “When this is all done, when I’m up and walking again, I just can’t wait until I can go to their house and say ‘thank you’, because they are what kept me sane.”
Today Wong is still recovering from his injuries. A mandatory injection to the abdomen and a varied cocktail of painkillers have become daily routine to numb the sharp stings he still receives in his missing left limb, a symptom commonly referred to as “phantom pain”. In addition to the grueling physical recovery, both Wong and his father have to burden the growing pile of medical bills, and an estimated $20,000 minimum cost for a mediocre prosthetic leg. Being a self-admitted sports addict, Wong hopes one day to afford a sports-fitted prosthetic, but tells me the advanced versions can cost upwards of $50,000, or as he jokingly describes it, “a BMW on my leg.”
There are many reasons to be angry at what happened to Jason Wong. His circumstance exemplifies why the world is inexplicably unfair, yet the person most entitled to be angry is not taking it. He knows that if you want to move on with your life, you can’t focus on being negative. For Wong, the plans are still the same. They’re merely postponed.
“After this experience, I know now nothing can stop me,” Wong bravely declares. “This is a challenge and I will rise above it. I don’t feel like anything can stop me after this.”
Readers can make a donation to the Wong family at any Wells Fargo bank.