Linath Lim’s life was formed by hunger.
She was not but 13 when the Khmer Rouge seized energy in Cambodia and ripped her household aside. The totalitarian regime despatched her and 4 siblings to work camps, the place they planted rice and dug irrigation canals from dawn to sundown — every surviving on two ladles of rice gruel a day. One disappeared, by no means to be discovered.
Only a few months earlier than the Khmer Rouge fell in January 1979, Lim’s father starved to demise, among the many almost one-quarter of Cambodians who perished from execution, pressured labor, hunger or illness in lower than 4 years.
For Lim, the indelible stamp of childhood anguish drove two of her life’s passions: serving individuals as a doctor and cooking lavish feasts for family and friends — each of which she did till she died of covid-19 in January.
Throughout the week earlier than her demise at age 58, she handled dozens of sufferers who flooded the hospital in the course of the lethal winter covid surge, whereas bringing home-cooked meals to the hospital for her fellow well being care staff to take pleasure in throughout breaks.
“These experiences in the course of the battle made her humble and empathetic towards the individuals round her,” stated Dr. Vidushi Sharma, who labored with Lim at Group Regional Medical Heart in Fresno, California. “She all the time needed to assist them.”
Lim’s story is certainly one of struggling and triumph.
Through the Khmer Rouge’s brutal reign and the Cambodian civil battle earlier than it, Lim and her 9 siblings attended faculty sporadically. The ravages of battle pressured the household first from its small city to the capital, Phnom Penh, after which into the countryside when the Khmer Rouge took energy in 1975. As a part of its imaginative and prescient to create a classless agrarian society, the communist group cut up households and relocated residents to rural labor camps.
Lim survived the work camps as a result of she was good and resourceful, stated her youngest brother, Rithy Lim, who additionally lives in Fresno. She dug ditches, hauled clay-like filth on her again, constructed earthen dams in the course of a river throughout monsoons — all with little meals or relaxation, he stated.
She additionally turned a skillful hunter and fisher, and discovered to establish vegetation that have been fit for human consumption.
“You can not think about the horrible circumstances,” he stated. “Consider it as a spot that you simply dwell like wild animals, and folks let you know to work. There’s no paper, no pens. You sleep on the bottom. We witnessed demise of all kinds.”
Vietnamese troops liberated Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge in 1979. Later that 12 months, Lim, her mom and siblings sneaked into Thailand. “The entire household walked via minefields,” Rithy Lim recalled. There, they waited and labored in refugee camps. At one camp, they met a dentist from California’s Central Valley who was on a medical mission.
When Lim and her household arrived within the U.S. in 1982, they landed in Georgia. However she and an older brother quickly moved to the small city of Taft, California, about 45 minutes west of Bakersfield, on the invitation of the dentist they’d befriended on the Thai refugee camp.
When she hit the bottom, the 4-foot-11 dynamo, then 19, was pushed by “pure dedication,” Rithy Lim stated.
Inside two years, Linath Lim discovered English, earned her GED and graduated from Taft School — “growth, growth, growth,” her brother recalled. (She discovered to make conventional, middle-America Thanksgiving dinners when she labored on the group school’s cafeteria, which she would later cook dinner for scores of family and friends.)
She went on to attend Fresno State after which the Medical School of Pennsylvania, sleeping on buddies’ couches, borrowing cash from different Cambodian refugees and scraping by.
“Think about not having any cash, finding out alone, sleeping in another person’s front room,” Rithy Lim stated.
Lim turned an inner medication physician “as a result of she all the time needed to be actually concerned with plenty of sufferers,” Rithy Lim stated. After her residency, she returned to the Central Valley to follow in hospitals and clinics in underserved communities, together with Porterville and Stockton, the place a few of her sufferers have been farmworkers and Cambodian refugees.
California has the biggest Cambodian inhabitants within the nation, with roughly 89,000 individuals of Cambodian descent in 2019, in response to a Public Coverage Institute of California evaluation of American Group Survey knowledge.
Twice, Lim joined the Cambodian Well being Professionals Affiliation of America on weeklong volunteer journeys to Cambodia, the place she and different docs handled a whole bunch of sufferers a day, stated Dr. Track Tan, a Lengthy Seaside, California, pediatrician and founding father of CHPAA.
“She was a kindhearted, very light particular person,” recalled Tan, who stated he was the one member of his household to outlive the Khmer Rouge. “She went past the decision of responsibility to do particular issues for sufferers.”
Most not too long ago, Lim labored the swing shift, 1 p.m. to 1 a.m., at Group Regional Medical Heart. She admitted sufferers via the emergency room, the place she was uncovered to numerous individuals with covid. She labored further shifts in the course of the pandemic, volunteering when the hospital was short-staffed, stated Dr. Nahlla Dolle, an internist who additionally labored with Lim.
“She advised me there have been so many sufferers on daily basis, and that they didn’t have sufficient beds and the sufferers needed to wait within the hallway,” Tan stated.
Colleagues stated she was conscious of the dangers however beloved her job. Lim, who was single and didn’t have youngsters, drew happiness from celebrating others’ joys. After getting house from work within the small hours, she slept for a bit, then received as much as cook dinner. Her specialties have been Cambodian, Thai, Vietnamese and Italian meals. She generally ordered a complete roasted pig that she transported to the hospital. Her memorable Thanksgiving dinners served 70 or extra individuals.
“For any event that comes up — if it’s a birthday, if it’s a child bathe, if it’s Thanksgiving — she would cook dinner, she would order meals and convey everyone collectively,” Dolle stated. “She beloved to feed individuals as a result of she skilled famine and lack of meals.”
The week earlier than she died, Lim cooked for her colleagues virtually on daily basis, and threw a child bathe for Sharma, full with rooster calzones and blueberry cake.
“On daily basis, we have been having lunch collectively,” Sharma stated. “She did the bathe, after which she’s gone.”
Lim, who had well being issues together with diabetes, had not been vaccinated.
On Jan. 15, Lim advised buddies by cellphone that she was exhausted, achy and having bother respiration. However she stated that she could be advantageous, that she simply wanted to relaxation. Then she stopped responding to calls and texts.
When she didn’t present up for work a couple of days later, her brother went to test on her at house and located her on the sofa, the place she had died.
Now her brother and colleagues are haunted by what-ifs over the lack of a outstanding girl and physician: What if I had checked on her sooner? What if she had been vaccinated? What if she had gotten care when she began feeling ailing?
“To have somebody who has been via all that in her childhood after which flourish as a doctor, a human being, coming to a brand new nation, studying English, going to highschool and school with out having a lot monetary assist, it’s phenomenal,” Sharma stated. “It’s unbelievable.”
This story is a part of “Misplaced on the Frontline,” a undertaking from The Guardian and Kaiser Well being Information that goals to doc the lives of well being care staff within the U.S. who die from COVID-19, and to analyze why so many are victims of the illness.
This story was produced by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially impartial service of the California Well being Care Basis.