An Orange County, California family is mourning the loss of their mother, who passed away from leukemia last Friday — a tragic event which could have been avoided had the government given their situation the delicate care it deserved.
Helen Huynh, wife and mother of three, was diagnosed with the most aggressive form of leukemia in February 2017. Physicians at the UCI Medical Center believed the best course of treatment for her diagnosis would be stem-cell therapy. In their search for a donor, it was discovered that Huynh’s sister, Thuy, was a 100% match; the problem, however, was that Thuy lived in Vietman. Huynh’s children quickly arranged for their aunt to fly to the U.S. to save their mother’s life, but were barred from doing so at every turn by the U.S. government. By the time Thuy was able to enter the country and assist in the life-saving procedure, it was too late — Huynh was too weak to overcome the cancer, and subsequently passed away on January 26, 2018.
Huynh’s daughter, Yvonne Murray, was devastated. “Had my aunt got her visa the first time she applied, my mom would have had a much better chance of fighting the cancer,” she said in an interview with NextShark. “For four months we were passed over, time and time again, without much care. All these people in the U.S. consulate didn’t even give us a second thought … they were so careless with her life.”
Now, she says, she’s fighting back to ensure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.
Murray, along with her family, spent the past year going back and forth with the U.S. government in both the States and Vietnam in their attempt to save Huynh’s life. It would prove to be a frustrating, exhausting experience. “We did everything that was required of us. We had all her paperwork ready, letters from three different hospitals stating that Thuy was a perfect match … everything. The U.S. consulate in Vietnam was of no help. Five minute meetings that would have resulted in a visa turned into utterly dismissive instances that only prolonged my mother’s suffering.”
When Thuy was eventually able to come to the U.S., she stayed for three weeks — despite being allowed to stay for six months — before promptly returning home to Vietnam. “She has her own life to live, a son to take care of. She couldn’t stay forever.” Unfortunately, when it came time to see if Thuy could return for her sister’s funeral, the family received another blow. “We found out that Thuy was never actually issued a visa; as it would turn out, we were granted a humanitarian parole. Senator Kamela Harris worked on getting my aunt here from her office in D.C., and we didn’t realize it had been pushed through as such. So when we looked into seeing if Thuy could return, we found out she wouldn’t be able to, as a humanitarian parole is only a one time thing.”
Enraged at the broken visa system and the mistreatment they faced by the government, Murray has vowed to work with civil rights groups, such as Advancing Justice, to save other families from such heartbreak.
“The way the visa system is right now doesn’t work.” she explained. “We tried to get a B-1 visa for my aunt, as that’s the type to acquire for medical reasons. Unfortunately, B-1 visas are also issued for tourism purposes, and there’s no distinction made between the two. I believe medical visas should be elevated. Why should someone who wants participate in a life-saving procedure be placed in the same category as someone who just wants to go to Disneyland?”
In her effort to bring this injustice to light, she’s found other families who have similar stories. “There’s another girl going through the exact same situation, where her mother has bone cancer and had a relative with a 100% match in Vietnam. She asked what she could do to get her family over here, and I told her that there’s nothing much to do except to make some noise about it.”
What the family said next shocked her. “Instead of fighting for the visa, they’re going to accept a 50% match instead because they don’t want to make a big deal out of it.”
Sadly, Murray says that wasn’t the first time she’d heard that, with countless other families afraid to rustle fathers despite their dire situation. “They don’t want to speak up. They’re trying to be the ‘model minority’,” she explained. “I know how they feel. I’m scared to do this, like there will be some crazies out there who could totally track me down. But I feel like if I don’t do anything about it, more people are going to die and I don’t want to be responsible for that.”
Undeterred, she is still looking for people with similar stories to come forward so they can fight this broken system together. “A lot of people are saying ‘America First’,” she said. “My mother was a U.S. citizen. All the people who have contacted me are U.S. citizens. Why is the government preventing them from getting the help they need?”
“To be honest, we feel betrayed,” she continued. “We feel like we’re Americans and yet we’re not. We felt that we were Americans before we even moved to the U.S. My dad fought alongside the U.S. army during the Vietnam War, and, by doing so, painted a giant target on himself. He really stuck his neck out for the Americans. And we feel betrayed.”
Murray says this has been a learning experience for their family. “My sister and I both married White guys, so our last names are American. And we still can’t believe how much we had to go through. Even my husband said ‘if you didn’t appear so ethnic, you may have received help faster.'”
Resolved, Murray now wants to ensure her mother’s death was not in vain. “I really want to focus on where we go from here, which is to basically make my mom’s legacy to help others. Ashes into beauty. That’s what we’re trying to do with the situation. It’s so bad that we lost our mom, but we want to have something good come out of it.”
Featured Image via GoFundMe / Helping Helen Huynh