Class of 2014: A slow, grueling comeback from sudden illness

MILL CREEK — He was a patient. Now he’s set on becoming a physician.

Justin Cho, 18, plans to become a neuroscientist and medical doctor after graduating from Jackson High School.

He woke up mute and paralyzed during his freshman year. The successful student leader, musician and athlete was suffering from a rare disease called Moyamoya, which causes the constriction of brain arteries.

“At first, when I couldn’t feel anything, I was surprised,” he said. “Then I felt suicidal.”

Cho spent months hospitalized and underwent two brain surgeries. He slipped into a coma after his first surgery. Following the second operation, he suffered a stroke. He survived numerous other complications.

“I had the perfect life. After surgery, I couldn’t live like that anymore,” he said. “I was at the top of the mountain and then fell into the abyss.”

Before he fell ill, Cho could speak English, Korean and Spanish. After the stroke, he had trouble with memory and speech. His basic motor functions also disappeared.

“The symptoms scarred me,” he said.

Cho pushed his limits every day in physical and occupational therapy. He spent months relearning how to walk and speak English. He’s still working on his Spanish and Korean. He’s regained most of his motor skills.

“It’s improved so much, I seem like a normal person,” Cho said.

He also made a comeback at school, reclaiming a top spot in his class with a 3.9 GPA. He’s returned to leadership positions in several school clubs, including the Model United Nations, the National Honor Society, Knowledge Bowl and Hi-Q. He’s also earned college scholarships. He did an internship last summer at the University of Washington’s medical school.

In the fall, Cho is set to attend Williams College, a private liberal arts school in Massachusetts. He plans to earn two doctorates, in neuroscience and medicine.

He wants to study the brain while practicing medicine in hopes of discovering a cure for Moyamoya.

“I worked so hard to get back to where I was before,” he said. “That’s my coming-of-age story.”

Stories on the Class of 2014

Justin Cho, Jackson: A slow, grueling comeback from sudden illness

Jasmin Edwards, Lynnwood: She excelled in the classroom and on the court

Micaela Powell, Everett: After transplant, she has a new heart and new horizons

Josh and Zach Rodriguez, Arlington: Twins will head down separate paths

Josh Sharpe, Snohomish: Under the burden of loss, he carried on

Santana Shopbell, Tulalip Heritage: She set a goal — and an example for others

Michael Wanner, Kamiak: At West Point, he’ll learn to be a leader

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