Family fights to save burn victim
Before third-degree burns on half his body turned his life upside down, Will Kapoun was not just any English teacher - he was a born natural.
"He has three younger brothers that just idolize him and being a teacher is something he really enjoyed. When he would come home from traveling, he would give them projects to do: research and presentations to the family on countries he visited," his mother, Judy Kapoun, said in an interview.
"He was just a born teacher," she added.
On Monday, Feb. 25, a fire tore through his Haebangchon, central Seoul, apartment. Details are still sketchy, but it is suspected the fire started inside the front entrance of his apartment from "a flammable liquid." No other apartments in his building were damaged and no one else was injured.
"We're concentrating on survival, we're not even close to thinking recovery," his mother said.
In his apartment itself, one bedroom was untouched by the fire as the door was shut, Judy told The Korea Herald. "But Will's bedroom and the living room are all totally charred and blistered. The fire and the heat must have been so incredibly intense."
Will, 26, is now in critical condition in an intensive care burn ward at a hospital in Seoul. "He has third-degree burns on over 64 percent of his body. His arms, chest, back, legs - basically the only thing not burned is his thighs," said his mother. "He is still extremely critical; as a matter of fact he took a turn for the worse (Wednesday)."
Will has been undergoing skin graft surgery since last week and had more work done on Monday. But his mother said that he doesn't have enough of his own skin left for more grafts. "He doesn't have enough of his own flesh left to transplant it, so they have to grow flesh in a Petri dish. We had to agree to the cost of that yesterday just to get them started on that."
Cost is another serious issue for the Kapouns. While Will was retroactively added to the Korean National Health Insurance program this week, it is only expected to offset a fraction of the total costs as it does not cover skin grafts. Each operation costs around $15,000. Treatment costs could reach around 145 million won ($150,000) or higher for injuries as bad as Will's.
A Medivac to a hospital in the United States will cost another $170,000. Judy said that Quick County Hospital in Chicago has agreed to take Will in and treat him at no cost to the family - but that they would be responsible for the $170,000 Medivac.
But at this point, said Judy, he is still fighting for his life, and will not be able to be transported for months.
Will is the oldest of five children - his youngest brother is just 12. A family friend in the United States, Abby Cox, explained: "The boys are at home in Alexandria, Indiana, with their grandmother, who is also undergoing cancer treatments."
"(Costs) keep mounting. He had to go on dialysis today and at one point we were given a figure of $150,000, but I think it's going to surpass that greatly because of complications," Judy said.
Will had been working at Bulam Elementary School as a part-time English instructor and was working under 15 hours a week. Under Korean law, employers are not on the hook for health insurance for part-time employees. "Part-time employees are not covered by mandatory health insurance," Brendan Carr, a foreign legal consultant with Hwang Mok Park law firm in Seoul.
Carr also said anyone legally residing in Korea is permitted to retroactively join Korea's national health insurance plan, but that they are liable to costs from the date of eligibility. "If you enroll late, be aware that the insured is required to ante up for all unpaid premiums as from the date of eligibility for cover - i.e., date of arrival. You don't get to buy insurance just when you need it."
So far, national health insurance has covered about 40 percent of the costs. "At this point right now, only about $20,000 of $55,000" has been made up by the insurance, noted Judy.
Responding fast to the family's plight, friends in both the United States and Korea have established financial support channels.
Laura, 22, Will's younger sister, is spearheading awareness and fundraising in the United States from her university in Bloomington, Indiana. With the help of friends, she set up www.billkapoun.com, where online donations are being accepted from people in the United States.
"I needed a way to clearly state what happened to my brother and how people could help. The website has been able to do this," she said. So far, the website has raised about $19,000.
Kin Jin-uk, a family friend, told The Korea Herald a bank account has been established and is now taking donations from people residing in Korea. He noted that the Kookmin Bank account is for direct deposit donations. The account number is 794002-04-03-1635 and the holder name is "Warren Franklin-William Fund."
A blog has also been set up to provide regular updates on Will's condition: www.savebillkapoun.blogspot.com. Fundraising events in Seoul are being planned and will be posted on the blog.
As the money slowly comes in, the Kapouns continue to fight alongside their son. Immediately after the devastating fire, his mother and father came to Korea to be at his side for as long as it takes.
"Will and I have always been really close. I am simply doing everything that I can to make sure that my brother is able to receive everything he needs to recover from this. I hope that people are able to see the human in this story and open their hearts to that," said Laura.
By Matthew Lamers 2008.03.07
Foreign Teachers Campaign for Colleague Injured in Fire
By Kang Shin-who Staff Reporter 03-04-2008
William Kapoun, 26, loved teaching kids. But the young, confident American will not be able to continue what he loves ― at least for a long while. About 10 days ago, a fire broke out at his apartment at dawn and left him with third-degree burns over 70 percent of his body.
The part-time teacher at Bulam Elementary School in northern Seoul is now in intensive care. He will have to endure reconstructive surgery on numerous occasions and a lengthy recovery. Despite the will to live, however, he lacks the means to fight the brutal battle.
The blaze not only altered his body and dreams but also laid bare working conditions that are void of shelters or insurance schemes against such terrible accidents. His full treatment is estimated to cost roughly $130,000.
His parents flew over immediately. They are also shocked by the staggering costs as he has no health insurance under his contract . "He lived in an unsafe apartment. There was no sprinkler system or fire alarm and he had only one exit, which was blocked by the fire," Dan Kapoun, 53, father of William, told The Korea Times at the hospital in Seoul.
The father lamented the absence of any clear insurance policy. "I think whoever hires someone should take responsibility for making sure there is insurance," he said.
He said his son was very happy when he decided to go to Korea. "My son was very adventurous. He thought it would be a very good thing to teach English here, not only for him but also his students."
Kapoun Burn Fund
Bulam Elementary School, the employer of the victim, said that the school is not obliged to provide any insurance coverage to employees working less than 15 hours a week in line with the Labor Law. The school has some 10 other part-time foreign teachers working under similar conditions.
William initially started to teach at a hagwon before transferring to the "after-school" English programs that paid him some 2.2 million won a month. He has worked here for 14 months. He holds a double-bachelors degree in history and economics from Indiana University, his home state school.
With his parents in a difficult financial situation, his friends and colleagues are joining hands to launch a campaign to raise funds via the Internet at http://www.billkapoun.com.
Calling on educational authorities to take measures to install systems to protect foreign teachers, they also lamented the absence of any organized representative body for teachers to rely on when disaster strikes.
Matthew Sellar, a part-time teacher at an elementary school in Seoul, said that the terrible situation could happen to other foreigners as well. "The fact that William was uninsured is indicative of the larger issue that many foreign English teachers do not have insurance," he said. "I wish it was easier for foreigners to report illegal activities without fear of being fired, deported, or arrested. I love Korea. I love teaching my students."
Faulty Hiring Procedures
Apart from some 4,000 full-time foreign teachers at public schools across the country, many other schools employ native-English speaking teachers for their 'after-school' programs through recruitment agencies.
In Seoul alone, there were 833 English programs after school hours. While full-time foreigners get benefits such as health insurance, pension and severance, part-time workers are not entitled to such basic packages.
Most schools hire teachers through agents and many of the part-time teachers have difficulty in communicating with their employers. That’s because agents do not care much about them once schools hire them. Some agents don’t even give contract copies to foreign teachers, William’s friends who were gathered at the hospital said.
Korea Immigration Service issues E-2 visas to foreigners as long as the employers are trustful such as public schools. Under the immigration law, holders of E-2, or working visa, are not automatically entitled to insurance coverage. There should be contracts guaranteeing insurance coverage for them to be protected by insurance.
"As far as I know E-2 visa holding foreigners are not eligible for insurance policies without contracts containing insurance coverage," said Kim Young-guen, an immigration official.
Adam Mueller, another native-English speaking teacher also asked the Korean government to give more attention to their difficulties. "The situation that our friend William is in is the ultimate nightmare for a foreigner in Korea; huge medical bills, difficulty getting information and no easy access to solutions," he said. "Teachers considering working in Korea will naturally have some concerns about their new life."
If the Korean government does more to make foreigners feel confident about their safety and access to information, Korea will be able to attract more and better English teachers, he added.
Warren Franklin, who is teaching at a university, said "If a teacher is working for an 'after-school' program and is given an E2 visa they should be entitled to insurance at least."
Meanwhile, police have yet to figure out the exact cause of the fire. They say it will take one or two more weeks to determine exact reasons.