SAN JOSE — A young Vietnamese refugee with spinal cancer struggled to fight back tears Saturday as he embraced his mother, who arrived from Vietnam after winning a bureaucratic race to comfort her dying son.
"I love you, I love you, mother," the bedridden Nguyen Ngoc Anh said as he embraced his mother, Dinh thi Ly, who left Vietnam after an intensive lobbying effort organized by hospital staff and a lawyer who specializes in obtaining the release of Amerasian children.
"Be brave, I'm here," Ly, who had repeatedly tried to escape from Vietnam after learning her son was dying, told Anh. "I love you and missed you every day when I was in Vietnam."
Ly arrived in San Jose on a United Airlines flight and immediately rushed to Valley Medical Center, where her son is critically ill.
Anh, 20, fled Vietnam with his sisters five years ago. He was adapting well to live in California until early last year, when he was diagnosed as having transverse myelitis, a rare form of spinal cancer.
He was near death last Wednesday when hospital social worker Judy Friedeberg told him officials in Vietnam had finally agreed to his death-bed wish and were allowing his mother to leave.
"His spirits improved considerably," lawyer Bruce Burns, who led the campaign to bring Dinh thi Ly to the United States, said.
"It's was a matter of getting the plane here on time," Burns said. "There's nothing else doctors can do. There's no chance of recovery at all."
Waiting for Arrival
"The medical staff was impressed that he was able to hang on this long," Dr. James Thompson said. "He has a strong will to live."
Friends and relatives of Anh first got word that Ly had been granted permission to leave Vietnam on Feb. 11. Burns quickly got on the phone to Vietnam and Bangkok and persuaded officials to get her out sooner, because Anh probably would not make it another three weeks.
"When we started trying to get her out nine months ago, there were 675,000 people applying to leave Vietnam, and she was number 210,000," Burns said.
When Anh's mother learned of her son's illness, Burns said, she made 22 separate escape attempts. She was twice jailed by the Vietnamese government, and twice came close to drowning after falling from a boat into the ocean.
The lawyer, who has helped dozens of Amerasian children relocate in the United States, made several trips to Thailand and Vietnam last year to plead for Ly's release.
When Anh fled to the United States, his mother and brother, in a different boat, were caught and sent back to Vietnam. Anh's father, Nguyen Van Ly, fled to the United States shortly after the fall of Saigon.