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Vietnamese woman awaits stem cell transplant, but visa system still broken for many

Helen Huynh (left)
Helen Huynh (right) celebrates a birthday with family

By Brittney Le
AsAmNews Staff writer

Important tests are now being conducted to see if doctor’s can proceed with the stem cell transplant that could save the life of leukemia patient Helen Huynh.

Immigration authorities had persistently denied Huynh’s sister Thuy Nguyen an emergency visa to come to the U.S., despite Nguyen being a 100% match for a stem cell transplant. After constant efforts by Huynh’s family, pressure from the media, and support from multiple organizations and local congressmen, the U.S. government finally granted Nguyen a temporary stay in the U.S. for Huynh’s medical treatment.

Doctors hope Thuy Huynh is the key to saving Helen Huynh's life.
Doctors hope Thuy Nguyen is the key to saving Helen Huynh’s life.

Yvonne Murray, Huynh’s oldest daughter, escorted her aunt from Vietnam to the U.S. last week. AsAmNews spoke to Murray for some updates on the situation and for her opinion on the whole matter.

RELATED: Emergency Visa Granted To Vietnamese Woman To Save Her Sister’s Life In California

RELATED: Woman denied visa and chance to save her sister’s life


The stem cell procedure isn’t a simple one to begin. The current status of Murray’s mother is changing from day to day. “One day the lab result can come back and we are full of hope, other days I feel like I need to start writing her obituary,” Murray expressed. “Right now we are holding our breaths.  They are running tests on Mom to see if she is still a candidate for stem cell transplants. She needs to be in fair health and cancer free to begin stem cell transplant.”


Murray recognized the extent to which all the media attention played a part in helping her aunt achieve parole status, which allowed her to come to the U.S. temporarily. “I think the media was definitely the key to helping us get that humanitarian parole.  We asked our Congressman to help after the 2nd denial, but it didn’t go anywhere,” explained Murray. “Once David Ono from ABC aired our story, people became aware of our situation and expressed anger.  With the people and the media watching, the people in public office got right on it and worked harder on it than they did before. Senator Harris, Representative Correa, and Congressman Lowenthal’s staff were all in touch with me every couple of days to update me what’s going on.


And while Huynh’s sister is finally here in the U.S., one can’t ignore the hoops the family had to jump through just to get here. “We are trying hard to be positive, even though I feel like we shouldn’t have had to go through that entire maze of bureaucracy in the first place,” said Murray. Nguyen could have arrived much earlier to help her sister, had the U.S. government been cooperative in the first place.


Murray recognized that one of her family’s mistakes was that they thought her aunt would get approved for a visa the second time. Nguyen was instead denied at three different interviews. As a word of advice, Murray claims that after a first denial, it’s important to get on the ball. Going through something like this may require getting an immigration attorney, contacting local congressmen, starting an online petition, getting help from various organizations, and making some noise to get attention.


What Murray wants is a change in the visa system that can address situations like this. The U.S. government is quick to assume that people will overstay their visas illegally, ignoring the individual details of each case. “I plan on working with AAAJ (Asian Americans Advancing Justice) to help change this. The interviewers need to ask more in-depth questions during the visa interview, they need to look at all the documents,” explained Murray. “My aunt brought a folder of paperwork, pictures of my mom, bank statements, and letters form the hospital, but she said the interview was about 3 minutes long.  They ask if she had been outside of Vietnam.  When she said no, they said the interview is over and she’s been declined.”


“For medical reasons, one should be able to gain entry to help a patient, unless there is a huge red flag,” Murray continued. “The way it is now, basically all people who are interviewing for a visa is guilty of intent to use the visa and stay in the US illegally. The way that it is now, hurt the American people.”


What’s especially upsetting is that Huynh’s family is not the only one to have experienced these roadblocks. “I had people coming up to me to tell me the same thing happened to them,” shared Murray. “They said their family is from Venezuela, Philippines, and Vietnam (all from less developed countries than the US).”


“Suddenly I felt like I wasn’t fighting to save just my mom, there are other people out there that’s going through the same thing,” Murray stated. “I would feel responsible for their deaths if I don’t use his opportunity to make a change to the current interview process for medical visa.”
Thuy Huynh with son (left) and nephew
Thuy Nguyen with son (left) and nephew
Their family had also been receiving some disturbing comments online, many of which claimed that they didn’t deserve help because they aren’t U.S. citizens. “Obviously that person didn’t read the article or video, because we stated over and over that our entire family are all US citizens,” pointed out Murray. “But to me, if someone is dying and you can do something to help save them, you do it, it’s a humanitarian thing, it’s the right thing to do.”

 Murray continues to speak out to raise awareness and push for positive changes. “My sister and I are college educated, our spouses both have their masters,” she noted. “If we have this much difficulty, what about other people who don’t speak much English or don’t know their rights?”As a hospice liaison for Companion Hospice, Murray occasionally writes letters for patient’s families from another country to come visit patient for the last time. “Often those letters get ignored and people don’t get to say good bye to their loved ones.  If in a situation where a medical visa would save someone’s life, it cannot be denied,” said Murray. “I am saying that because I hope that no one else will have to go through what my family went through.”

To support their family, please visit their GoFundMe page.


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