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A 63-year-old woman suffering from Parkinson's disease sent an e-mail in December asking teachers and students at eastern China's Xiamen University for help in paying her exorbitant medical bills.|
"Even after years of striving, my medical condition remains a challenge in what's a real fight for my life ... my dilemma is compounded since I can no longer afford critically needed therapeutic healthcare," Janice Engsberg, the first foreign professor to teach communication studies at the school, wrote in the e-mail.
A number of teachers in the School of Communication and Journalism at Xiamen University received the e-mail, and they decided to launch an online campaign to draw nationwide attention to the woman's situation.
"Janice is an optimistic person, and she would not ask us for help if she could manage it," said She Shaomin, a former student of Engsberg's as well as a current professor at the university.
A LASTING IMPRESSION
Hoping to spend a few years working outside of the US, Engsberg came to China at 38 after graduating from the State University of New York at Stonybrook with a doctorate in sociology.
She arrived in Guangdong province in 1986 and taught at Sun Yat-sen University. Two years later, she was recommended for a teaching position at Xiamen University in Fujian province.
Engsberg left an impression as an "excellent and kind foreign teacher" among the students and teachers at Xiamen University, and she made great achievements in the place she considered her "second hometown."
"She invited some students to parties on Christmas Day every year, she used her own savings to help some poor students, and she even donated her foreign language books to the book corner," "Nanmencaibao", an user of Sina Weibo, a leading Twitter-styled microblogging service in China, wrote.
Engsberg also established the "Ying Jian Scholarship," using her Chinese name, for students at the university, said Zhu Jianqiang, deputy director of the School of Communication and Journalism.
Engsberg spent almost 20 years in Xiamen before returning to the US in 2006 after treatments for her Parkinson's disease failed in China.
"I still remember the last lesson she taught in 2005. She had shaved her head and wore a hat at that time. Her writing on the blackboard was not so smooth, and she couldn't walk straight," She said.
A CALL TO ACTION
In her e-mail, Engsberg wrote that her condition has gradually deteriorated since she was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2001.
However, she has exhausted all of her personal funds, including an inheritance from her deceased parents, to cover her extraordinary medical bills, and she remains in debt due to treatments.
In the US, only citizens 65 and older can receive retirement benefits, and Engsberg falls just two years short of that mark.
Meanwhile, her health insurance only covers part of her treatments.
Her e-mail also said the she is undergoing a radiation treatment that will cost 75,000 US dollars each year, and her treatments have also left her with a 25,000-US-dollar-debt that needs paid now.
"My colleagues and I feel so sorry about her current situation," She said.
She and her colleagues and students organized "We Love Jan," an online group set up to echo the call for help and to raise money for Engsberg's treatments.
Since the group was established, thousands of Internet users have posted glowing comments about the former teacher on Sina blogs, Sina Weibo and Tencent, another major Chinese website offering blogging and microblogging services.
From Dec. 29, 2011 to Jan. 4, the group had received more than 80,000 yuan (12,700 US dollars) in donations, a sizeable sum still short of Engsberg's needs.
We did not anticipate this much of a response, not just domestically, but also from abroad. The compassion shown between China and the US has been so touching, Zhu said.
Meanwhile, Xiamen University has decided to give Engsberg a monthly subsidy of 5,000 yuan starting this year.
"This week, being reconnected with many of my 'apples and oranges' in far-flung corners of the world is bringing me great joy. Your warm and caring messages via e-mail, Facebook, the phone and via the newly growing 'We Love Jan' web blog are a source of love and healing energy for me," Engsberg wrote in a recent e-mail.