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Oklahoma native returns home after becoming sick in South Korea

Well-wishers helped pay the medical bills after Sean Jones was diagnosed with encephalitis.
BY LAURA-CLAIRE CORSON Modified: September 20, 2013 at 8:41 pm •  Published: September 21, 2013

It's been a long journey home for Sean Jones.

Jones moved from Oklahoma City to teach English in South Korea, where he was diagnosed in the spring with a rare type of encephalitis. After months of medical treatment he finally made it to St. John's Hospital in Tulsa on Sept. 9 and hoped to leave the hospital this weekend, said his mother, LaTanya Dodd.

Jones, 29, has anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a brain disease that can be confused with psychological disorders, and wasn't allowed to leave the hospital in South Korea until his bill was paid in full. He and his brother paid the hospital $10,000 soon after he was admitted, but as his illness lingered the bill climbed to $47,000.

Most yearlong teaching contracts in South Korea offer medical care based on the country's national health insurance with the employee sharing the cost. But when Jones became too sick to teach, the school had to terminate his contract, Dodd said.

Fundraising efforts

Much of the money to pay his hospital bill came from donations via fundraisers on Facebook and set up by his family. Dodd said one person came up to her on the street and handed her 200,000 South Korean won (about $184).

“It restored my belief in humanity,” Dodd said. “People will help.”

Others sponsored fundraising events such as raffles, soccer tournaments, parties and quiz nights.

Kholo Matsafu said she became friends with Jones after they met as teachers in Cheonan during his first year on the Korean Peninsula.

After they moved to different towns she lost touch until hearing about his illness.

Within a few days, Matsafu and Melissa Hanson pulled together a performing group, including people who belly-danced, sang, and performed stand-up comedy and storytelling.

It included B-boying, also known as break dancing, which Jones loved to do before he got sick, she said.

“People just gave. It was incredible,” Matsafu said.

In one night at a bar in Seoul, people donated more than 1,200,000 won (about $1,170), and the money was given to Dodd the next day.

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