When she was just 5 days old, the nuns found Hee Ja Byun, abandoned on a street in Pusan, Korea. They brought her to a Catholic orphanage and cared for her for two years until; in 1963, she was sent to the United States, a healthy looking baby, about to begin what promised to be a happy life with an American family.
What no one knew then, but what the family later discovered, was that the child, called Lisa, was severely mentally retarded. When she was 4 years old, the family canceled adoption plans and Lisa was removed from their home.
Lisa snce has spent her life being shuttled around to foster homes and institutions. She was sent to whatever facilities would take her: nursin homes, private homes, mental health centers, a psychiatric ward at a new York hospital. Sometimes she could stay only a couple of months in one pace.
Now 15, with no one to care for her, Lisa lives in St. Elizabeths Mental Hospital here, in a ward filled with mentally ill and retarded elderly women.
She recognizes her name and offers her hand to a visitor. She is pretty dark glossy hair cut to her chin and short bangs brushed to the side of her forehead. At times, she paces rapidly around the ward dayroom in small circles, as television blares in the background. Sometimes she stops and reaches for something that isn't there or listens to imaganiray sounds.
She is affectionate but she can be violent, the ward attendant says - once she punched a hole through a wall with her fists - and everyday she is tranquilized.
During the three years that she has lived at St. Elizabeths, Lisa's future has been a subject of protracted legal battle. Her case appeared to finally come to a resolution last week when a D.C. Superior Court judge, who went to the hospital to see the child, decided that she must remain there for now.
"I realized this is a tragedy..." said John E.McCarthy, an official of the Catholic relief agency that arranged for Lisa to be brought to this country in 1963. "It's one of those unfortunate things that no one hoped would ever happen," he said of the discovery by 1966 that Lisa was not a normal child.
"The child was sponsored by an American citizen and then the Ameri- can citizen walked out, said McCarthy. "We acted as the middleman in this thing."
For the next eight years, Lisa was in and out of foster homes and institutions, charge of the Catholic relief agency, which stepped back into her life when her adopting family found it could no longer afford to care for her.
"We paid the bills on that child...even though we had no real liability...we had the liability of one human being to another," McCarthy said.
In his opinion issued last week, Superior Court Judge George H. Goodrich said "all these placements...proved to be unsuccessful largely due to the unpredictable, disturbed and violent behavior" of the child.
Suddenly, in 1974, someone from Kentucky nursing home, were Lisa had lived for close to three years, flew with the child to New York and left her at the Catholic reflief agency's Manhattan office, McCarthy said.
Later McCarthy testified in Superior Court that Lisa was "completely psychotic" when she was brought to New York. "We immediately got the police in and they put her in Bellevue," a New York City mental hospital.
Bellevue officials refused to continue Lisa's care because she was not a New York resident, according to case records. So in June, 1974, Lisa was flown by the agency to Washington. A doctor certified her as chizophrenic moments after she got off a plane at National Airport, and she was admitted to St. Elizabeths on an emergency basis. In November, 1974, one the recommendation of the Mental Health Commission a Superior Court Judge ordered her committed to St.Elizabeths indefinitely.
Lisa, then 13, often was aggressive and self destructive. Sometimes she would have to be placed in secludion because she would bang her head against the wall and rip off the protective helmet she wore, according to case records. She ate paint off the wall and "may have a significant level of lead in her system," one report said. She sometimes assaulted other patients.
But some psychiatrists who examined him indicated there was some possibility that in a proper environmental she could learn. She could at times recite part of the alphabet or count up to seven or eight. She could recognize colors and sometimes write her name, according to her accord.
Attorneys from the Mental Health Division of the Public Defenders Service took up Lisa's case and began to search for an institution that would accept her The Emma Pendleton Bradley Hospital in Rhode Island, which specializes in the treatment of mentally retarded and autistic children agreed to take Lisa for a one-year trial period, according to Harry J.Fulto of the Public Defenders Office. Bradley Hospital officials cautioned that Lisa could be returned to St. Elizabeths at any time if the program did not work out. The cost of her care at that time would have amounted to more than $29,000 for one year, Fulton said.
During the period, from November, 1974, to May, 1975, various court hearings were held and orders issued about appropriate care for the child. It was a situation that Robert J Flynn, Jr. an assistant corporation counsel who represented the city described as "unbelievable" "It's like playing badminton and she was the shuttlecock," Flynn said.
In May, 1975, D.C. Superior Court Judge Tim Murphy ordered that Lisa be sent to Bradley Hospital with the cost to be paid by the city. Later, Murphy ordered both the city and the Catholic relief agency to share the cost. The city argued that Lisa was not a resident of the District and the agency said it could not afford to pay her bills.
Goodrich noted in the opinion that ward nurses told him that they felt ward nurses told him that they felt they could not give Lisa the attention she needed because of the demands of other patients. He added that she does get some occupaional and speech therapy. Goodrich wrote that the doctor in charge of the ward "felt there was no hope of improvement in her condition," and that the prognosis was "very poor"
Manwhile, city officials proposed caring for Lisa both at St. Elizabeths and at Forest Haven, the District's home for retarded children. In his opinion, however, Goodrich said it would not be feasible to place Lisa in Forest Haven because of her unpredictable violent behavor.
This "complicated and tragic issue" cpmes down either St. Elizabeths or Bradley Hospital, Goodrich said.
Finally the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled that Lisa was a resident of Washington because the United States Catholic Conference which runs the relief agency is headquartered here. Thecourt said the city was responsible for the cost of her care and ordered city officials to submit a plan for her care within 60 days.
The case was sent back to the trial court, but this time it was assigned to Judge Goodrich. In his opinion last week Goodrich acknowledged that Judge Murphy had found that St. Elizabeths was an inadequate treatment facility for Lisa. Goodrich went to see Lisa in the hospital last March.
"She appeared very agitated upon entering the room and she walked in an almost spastic way, holding her hands, head and body rigidly," Judge Goodrich wrote in his opinion. Lisa made sudden violent motions and gutteal noises but after a few minutes "she subsided and began to stare intently at a small button and grind her teeth," he said. At the end of the visit she said "My name is Lisa" and was "coaxed into saying bye-bye," he wrote.
Goodrich wrote that he was concerned about the tentative nature of Lisa's acceptance at Bradley and the possible destructive effects of sudden changes in her environment, and had correspended with a doctor from Bradley about the case.
At the close of his 16-page opinion, Goodrich wrote that Lisa "has now been at St. Elizabeths for several years. She already receives not an insubstantial amount of care and treatment from the attending staff. Therapy is available for the times she is receptive to learning.
"Although Bradley will provide her with a much more substantial program of therapy and surround her with younger children, well founded fears have been expressed (by a doctor there) that a Bradley placement in the near future would conceivably be unsuccessful and end with her rapid return to St. Elizabeths."
Goodrich then ordered that Lisa remain at St. Elizabeths and that her case be reviewed by the court every six months.
Dr. Roger Peele, acting superintendent of St. Elizabeth said through a spokesman yesterday, "the hospital regrets the decision even though we realize it was a difficult one for the court. Although we think she (Lisa) would have been better served in another facility, the hospital will do all it can to provide appropriate care and treatment."
Fulton said the public defender's office will appeal. "I think that St. Elizabeths has been demonstrated as inadequate...and she shouldn't stay there," he said.
"The only thing that has happened since she has ben here is deterioration and she's grown older. The only positive thing you can sayis that she hasn't died," he said.