You were born with potential.
You were born with goodness and trust.
You were born with ideals and dreams.
You were born with wings.
You are not meant for crawling, so don’t.
You have wings
Learn to use them and fly.
Our only child and son, Leo, came to us in the summer of 1992 and transitioned in the winter of 2012. He was born in Toronto and grew up in Vancouver. He graced us with his physical presence for a little over 19 years. All who knew Leo are aware that his passion was to make positive changes for Canada and the world.
Leo was a gifted child and talented in many ways. He was always kind and respectful to people from all walks of life. He was a loving son who is still our pride and joy. He was one of the most inquisitive children we have ever met and he was eager to learn about this world.
He was not afraid to be different and would not give in to pressure from others. A case in point was his hairstyle. We only learned after his passing that he was ambushed in high school because an older student wanted to change his style of hair. He would not conform and maintained his dignity and uniqueness without fear of being estranged by the popular crowd.
Right from the start, we knew that Leo was a precocious and unique child. His vast interests and expansive mind kept us young as we tried to keep up with him. He never stopped learning and was always so diligent. He was also a lot of fun and had a great sense of humour.
Play was just as important to him as work. He enjoyed our family trips and loved being with us, whether it was travelling together or just having a meal. We were truly blessed with the quality time we had as a family. What always impressed me is how much he appreciated us and showed us his gratitude for everything that he had.
Leo was an outstanding student throughout his school years. He had always gotten straight-As and was in the honour roll with distinction. He was offered scholarships by all the universities he applied to. There were so many scholarship offers that he had to turn down more than one. He always did his very best with everything he undertook. He would strive for excellence and when he had achieved his goals, he would carry on without bragging about his success.
In spite of a heavy academic load, Leo devoted his time to volunteer work, mentoring younger students, supporting his peers in their academic work, and organizing student activities for school. He was active in the student council. He was well respected by peers and well liked by teachers.
Leo joined the BC Youth Parliament in his high school days and was an active member. He helped organize and participate in their summer camps serving underprivileged children.
Leo’s leadership skills were always recognized and acknowledged. In 2010, he was selected to participate in the Encounters with Canada Program which is a prestigious forum for youth leaders across the country. It took place in Ottawa and the conference lasted a week. It was there that he met Justin Trudeau, the current Prime Minister of Canada who was then a Member of Parliament.
Leo was well-rounded, excelling in many areas. He was passionate about music and was a self-taught musician, Playing Piano, the acoustic and electric guitars, and the keyboard. He was interested in playing the drums just before he passed. He was the bass guitarist for the concert and jazz bands throughout high school. We discovered later that he had also been composing music. He played the role of the flamboyant journalist in the musical drama ‘Annie’ in Middle School and he sang solo for a whole scene! The music director told us that he hit every note perfectly.
He was a strong public speaker and a keen debater, representing his school in BC competitions. Those who heard him said he could easily debate from the two opposing sides. He started winning public speaking competitions in elementary school. He gave many speeches in and outside of school.
If you click on the play button below, you can hear the speech Leo gave for Healthy Living Week when he was in Grade 12 and only 17 years old.
He was the first student to be given the honour of delivering a Remembrance Day speech at his high school. We only found out recently he got an A+ in Public Speaking at university.
In Grade 12, Leo travelled to Europe with his high school teachers and other students for a historical trip.
They went to France, Belgium, and Germany; they visited war memorials and the grave sites of fallen soldiers. When I asked what impressed him the most, he said solemnly, “They were only my age.” He was referring to the soldiers who were only young boys when they were killed. He was very touched by that.
Leo never swam as a child because of a freak accident in preschool. He later overcame his fear and became a life guard and swim instructor at the local aquatic centre. He taught many young kids over the summers and their parents remember him as a hard-working and kind teacher. Very few people know that Leo had sailed on a tall ship solely depending on the winds for nine days without communication with the outside world. He was 16 and went sailing with a group of young people around Vancouver Island. He loved climbing up the mast and watching the stars in the dark night sky.
For a 19-year-old, Leo had lived a rich and fulfilling life that many who live to a ripe old age would be envious of. He was and will always be our bright star. His light shines on brighter and brighter! Where there is light, there is no darkness.
A Precious Young Life Cut Short
“A life cut short” is the name of an article written in the Coquitlam Now community newspaper by Jennifer McFee. It appeared soon after Leo had crossed over in Victoria, BC, where his precious young life was brought to a sudden halt. Leo went back to the University of Victoria after Christmas 2011. He was very eager to start his new semester in his second year of Political Science. He loved his friends and his professors, and enjoyed his academic pursuits. We still find it too difficult to recall what happened. It was surreal.
Meningitis y strain took Leo’s life soon after he got back to campus. He was in an induced coma by the time we arrived to see him in ICU. Leo had always been a very healthy, cautious, and clean young man. Before he started UVic in 2010, he had asked the doctors what kind of inoculations he needed to protect himself at university. They failed to tell him. That fatal day in January 2012, he went to see a doctor at the student health centre on campus when he was in a lot of pain. The doctor dismissed him as having the flu or a cold. Leo specifically told us about the neck pain he was suffering from when he called that afternoon.
He was admitted to ER late that night. It was too late. Doctors told us after his passing that he could have died that night, but he hung on. Leo would not leave until we came to terms with the fact that he could not stay. After five days and four nights in ICU praying for our son to recover, we had to give him permission to go.
This is not for the faint of heart. Leo’s courage is beyond human.
Leo the Lion-Hearted
When Leo was 12 years old and in Middle School, he entered the Fraser Valley Historica Competition and chose to do a project on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We remember taking him to a gym at a university and leaving him there for a couple of hours. He had to ‘defend’ his project to three judges to prove his knowledge of the topic, and he did it all on his own. In addition to the charts and writings, he also made a DVD to support his project. He was a technology wiz, even as a young kid! He won first prize and the reward was a ribbon and a teddy bear. One of the judges commented on a piece of paper, “You are going to be THE LEO.”
Growing up, Leo saw how we were harassed by a neighbour because we look different. We are Canadians of Asian heritage. We were able to have our day in court because of Leo’s one piece of evidence against her. Leo stood in the witness box, interrogated by lawyers for 45 minutes. He was 11 years old. He was calm and spoke truthfully. He was praised by the judge. The court issued a restraining order to the defendant.
Truth is of the Essence
People always praised Leo for his politeness and good manners. However, he was never intimidated by authority figures or those who were physically stronger than him. When he was a little boy in school, there were a number of instances when he stood up for the truth. He might have been young, but he roared like a lion whenever he perceived injustice.
He was 12 when he defended his project on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He was well-versed in the law of the land when most Canadians have never even read this document. He believed that we are all equal before the law and that all lives are precious regardless of race and colour, and not just those of the rich and famous.
At the ICU, we were told that even if his heart didn’t give out, they would have to amputate his four limbs and he would be brain-dead for the rest of his life.
Leo was hanging in there with his strong spirit, determined not to leave until we had the time to speak with him and give him permission to go. The bacterial meningitis had swiftly destroyed his physical body. It was his unwavering love for us and his unparalleled courage that kept him alive in ICU for those last few days.
The way Leo lost his human life sends a powerful message to us all. Those who are entrusted with the privilege and responsibility of protecting lives, and especially young lives, need to share pertinent information and to be accountable for their actions. Leo grew up in BC, one of the most affluent provinces in Canada, and yet the information about bacterial meningitis and its preventative vaccine was not made available to the general public. It is still not easily accessed today.
By creating this website, it is our hope to not only share the tremendous inspiration Leo’s life offers us, but also to raise awareness in regards to this critical health issue so that people, particularly parents and students, can make informed choices when it comes to the bacterial meningitis vaccine.