Flushing man overjoyed with return of autistic brother thanks to a persistent nurse at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Queens

A Flushing man with autism is home safely after his brother and volunteers distributed a photo of him that used artificial intelligence to show him as he appears now after the NYPD used a photo of him when he was reported missing on Jan. 3. It turns out Henry Chang was in a Flushing hospital, where the brothers were reunited nearly a week later.
Photo courtesy of Johnny Chang

A Flushing man will be forever grateful to a persistent nurse for the safe return of his autistic brother who was reported missing on Jan. 3 after he went out on his daily walk to Flushing Meadows Corona Park and didn’t return.

Henry Chang, 49, whose disappearance caused great alarm for his family, was walking through his favorite park not far from his home on Blossom Avenue when he suffered dizziness, fainted and fell down. EMS responded to the scene and transported Chang to New York-Presbyterian Hospital Queens. However, while he was in hospital, his brother Johnny did not know his Henry’s whereabouts and sought help from the public in finding him. They were reunited a week later. 

“So he was at New York-Presbyterian all that time but they kept him fed and ran all kinds of tests on him and a CT Scan showed he did not suffer a head injury, but he did separate his shoulder when he fell so he does have his arm in a sling,” Johnny Chang told QNS on Monday morning, one day after the NYPD announced his brother was “safe and had been returned home.” 

Photo courtesy of the NYPD

The search for Henry Chang, who is on the autism spectrum, was complicated since Johnny didn’t have a recent photo of his brother to distribute since he feared being photographed. Johnny and his friends had to use artificial intelligence in order to circulate a useful photo based on one taken when Henry was much younger.

“But it turns out it was the name that he gave hospital staff that caused the confusion,” Chang said. “He gave them the name Michael Kim which basically threw everyone who was searching for him off the trail. We were all looking for Henry or a John Doe and the whole time he was registered at New York-Presbyterian as Michael Kim, which I came to realize later was a name that is sometimes sent to our home on junk mail. It’s not uncommon for autistic people to sometimes latch on to a name they have seen in the past and use it when they are scared or paranoid; it appears that is what happened to Henry. He gave his name as Michael Kim.”

A head nurse at the hospital discovered the brother’s Blossom Avenue home phone number and called.

“At first I wasn’t returning her calls because I didn’t recognize her number and we were still searching for Henry, but she remained persistent and we spoke on Tuesday, Jan. 9 which is his [49th] birthday,” Chang said. “I guess you could say it was the best birthday present ever. When we spoke, she went to the room where he was staying and as she talked to him. I could hear his voice in the background, and that’s when it clicked, and I knew it was him.”

Johnny is not blaming New York-Presbyterian Hospital Queens for his brother’s disappearance.

“I suppose once they realized his only injury was a separated shoulder, they could have released him and he would have found his way home because he is so familiar with the neighborhood,” Chang said. “And I guess in their defense they were waiting for someone to pick up Michael Kim and pay his bills, but I will always be grateful to the nurse for not giving up until we had the chance to speak.”

He added that he didn’t think police from the 109th Precinct in Flushing dropped the ball.

“This is New York City after all, there’s always something of consequence going on in this city,” Chang said. “I think the NYPD gets a bad rap from time to time but they were very professional and very helpful, they didn’t dismiss this like he was some Joe Schmoe. Do I feel they could have been more like the FBI? Of course, but I’m biased. He’s my family. Obviously I wanted to find my brother right away as soon as possible but I don’t blame the police. I just wish the hospital had a better system in place for finding loved ones.”

He added that he’s grateful for the nurse and all of the volunteers who searched for Henry this month, and for now his brother is staying home.

“Yeah, at least until his shoulder recovers from the injury,” Chang said. “I couldn’t say no because that would traumatize him because he enjoys walking around and autistic people like to do their own thing. I suppose he’ll want to resume his walks but hopefully that will wait until it’s much warmer outside.”