A baby dies, survives and reunites with long-lost Vietnamese mother

By Hanh Pham    September 21, 2018 | 06:15 pm PT
After suffering the fate of being given up for dead, Tuong Vy Munier-Michel was compensated with several miracles.

Doctors said there was no hope. The baby would die.

The broken-hearted father signed the cremation papers.

He could not take her to their native place for burial because the premature baby’s mother, his wife, was still in the hospital and had to be tended to.

Later, the sad parents went to the hospital to collect the ashes, but could not.

They returned home, accepting their fate.


In a story that twists at every turn with ifs and buts, the baby did not die.

No chance

“When I was six months pregnant, doctors at the district hospital said my baby had congenital hydrocephalus (a condition in which cerebrospinal fluid accumulates within the brain and increases pressure inside the skull). They advised me to give her up. 

“Even if she was born, she would not survive (for long), they noted,” said Khong Thi Thu Trang, sitting in her small house in the Mekong Delta province of Ben Tre.

Trang and her husband did not lose hope immediately. They went to the Tu Du Hospital in HCMC, but doctors there could only console the couple and prepare for her labor.

On the night of May 6, 2003, Trang had her first contraction and was carried to the operating room.

“Do not try to push too hard, your cervix can swell up, you may die,” the doctors exclaimed, but Trang kept pushing, fearful that her baby could suffocate.

Trang was in her seventh month of pregnancy then. It was a dangerous preterm labor, but her pale, tiny daughter was delivered and immediately transferred to the incubator.

"One day, my husband came back after visiting our daughter with a sad look. I asked if they could save our child. He said they were trying,” recalled Trang, tears filling her eyes.

She learnt that their child did not survive only after she was discharged. Trang’s husband, unable to leave her alone at the hospital, was also unable to bring the child’s body back home for burial. He signed an agreement to give up his child and allow the hospital to cremate the baby.

"After he finished signing, it seemed that he’d lost his soul, lying all day on the stone bench," Trang’s roommate told her.

After a failed attempt later to collect their baby’s ashes, the couple returned home with their son, accepting what fate had arranged for them.

Miracle No.1

Four years later, Agnès Munier-Michel travelled over 10,000 kilometers from France to Vietnam to adopt a baby.

She almost burst into tears at the sight of a four-year-old girl at the Child Protection Center in Go Vap District, her pure black eyes filled with innocence.

“The first time I met her, I thought she was a gift from God; she was so cute!” Looking back, Agnès thinks destiny brought the girl to her. “I loved her at first sight.”

That girl was Tuong Vy.

It is hard to explain how Tuong Vy survived, since patient files are disposed of every 10 years, said Le Ngoc Diep, a doctor at the Tu Du Hospital.

With a stroke of luck, the little girl did not just survive, but successfully underwent a surgery to place a catheter linking the ventricle to the chest.

The Munier-Michels had to wait for a year before they could meet Tuong Vy. After she was informed about the girl's medical condition, Agnès was not fully ready for their first meeting. She only touched the girl’s cheeks and said “Everything is going to be fine. I promise everything is going to be fine.”

Over the next seven years, Tuong Vy entered the operation room another four times.

“We tried not to think too much about what could happen,” Agnès said. “We thought, ‘Whatever will be, will be.’”

"Depending on the condition, pediatric hydrocephalus patients need to have surgeries several months to several years after birth," said Dang Do Thanh Can, Head of the Department of Neurology, Hospital of Pediatrics 2.

Thanh said patients with hydrocephalus need to have a surgery every 3-4 years to avoid the risk of tube blockage and infection.

Today, Vy can pull up her shirt to show her four scars, vestiges of four surgeries she underwent in 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2014. Every time she turned her neck to the left, a long line showed up. “People usually think it is a vein,” Vy says, pressing her neck to highlight the “vein”.

“Everybody is surprised to know it is actually the catheter.”

The Munier-Michels live in the suburb of Reims, a two hour drive to the north of Paris.

Agnès Munier-Michel (R) opens Tuong Vys medical record in a hotel in HCMC.

Agnès Munier-Michel (R) opens Tuong Vy's medical records at a hotel in HCMC.

When they first got married, the Munier-Michels did not expect to have four children.

After having her first daughter, Agnès felt that she still lacked something, something that she could not express in words.

"We have always wanted to adopt a kid, especially a foreign one," she said. "My husband has a Vietnamese half-sister, so we had a special love for Vietnam."

Every foreigner who wants to adopt a Vietnamese child must go through a complicated procedure. From background verification until application for the child’s nationality, the process usually takes more than a year.

In 1998, the couple traveled to Vietnam to meet their first adopted son, Trung. In 2001, 8-year-old Hien was the fifth member, and in late 2007, Vy was the final addition to the family.

“Vy had almost no chance of survival if she was at the child protection center. Many children with hydrocephalus did not make it. They died when they were just over 10 years old," said Huong, who worked for over 20 years at the Go Vap Child Protection Center. "If she had not gone to France, she probably would have died by now."

Miracle No.2

Tuong Vy Munier-Michel (L) talked to her Vietnamese mom - Khong Thi Thu Trang - at her house in Ben Tre province. 

Tuong Vy Munier-Michel (L) with her biological Vietnamese mother, Khong Thi Thu Trang, at the latter’s house in Ben Tre Province. 

On a fateful morning in October 2007, her neighbor called Trang out and asked: "Did you have a baby and leave her at the Tu Du Hospital? She is still alive!”

Trang was skeptical at first. "Who said this?"

But when she found that police were searching for her about her child, she rushed to the People’s Committee’s office in Ben Tre’s Ba Tri Ward. Fortunately, a birth file has been archived there. Seeing the birth date and the photo in the file, Trang cried out, “This is my child!”

The couple quickly went to the Child Protection Center in Go Vap, where they learned that Tuong Vy was getting ready to be adopted and taken to France.

"At first I was determined to bring her back, but if I did that, she could die, so I thought I would let them take her away so that she could live," Trang said.

The couple met their child twice and then lost contact.

"I felt dejected. I was sad because I did not know how long it would take to meet her again. I prayed that the Lord protects her and let her go to a good family."

Miracle No.3

Vy did grow up in a loving family, and then she found another one.

In 2010, when her niece was sitting for the college entrance exam in HCMC, Trang visited the city with her two sons. Stuck in the traffic in front of the test center, Trang thought of her daughter. "Last time I was here, I had a chance to meet her."

As she thought this, her glance fell on a girl riding pillion on a motorbike.

A sudden police whistle startled the child and she turned around.

“I saw her face. How could I forget my child!”

Trang rushed across the street through the traffic in desperation.

“My child, Vy, it’s mommy!” she cried out, grabbing at the girl’s leg as the thick traffic allowed her to catch up with the motorbike.

“I saw my daughter again in Saigon, in a land of millions of people. The Lord did not separate us,” an emotional Trang said, recalling the miraculous reunion eight years ago.

That was the first time Vy’s two mothers met each other. 

Since then, every two years, Agnès has taken Tuong Vy to Vietnam to live with her parents and siblings for a week. Every time Vy stays in Ben Tre with her biological parents, Agnès hands over the girl’s thick patient profile, just in case there’s an emergency.

Tuong Vy’s dad passed away two months after she returned to France in 2015.

This year, the first thing Tuong Vy did was to visit her father’s grave together with her two mothers.

On a sunny day in August, in a graveyard two hours’ away from HCMC, a Vietnamese woman piggybacked a skinny girl, walking through the graves.

“You are so light, just like a baby monkey,” Trang said, teasing her daughter.

Following her was the girl’s French mother with light yellow hair. The women do not know each other’s language, but they are united in their love for their 15-year-old daughter.

At the grave of her father, Tuong Vy Munier-Michel spoke of her other dad.

“I get along with my dad, dad is quiet like me.”

Tuong Vy’s smile belie the tumultuous play of life and death she’s experienced.

The teenager is a talented singer now.

She sometimes asks her mother why she deserted her, and Trang laughs out loud in response.

"Is that something to laugh about?" Vy would respond, and hum a few lines from "Human" by British singer Rag'n'Bone Man.

“I'm only human after all

I make mistakes

I do what I can

Don’t put the blame on me."

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