American couple gives Vietnamese boy with hemangioma fresh chance in life

By Pham Nga   June 3, 2022 | 05:19 am PT
When Hope Ettore and her husband adopted Nguyen Le Hung 17 years ago, the boy's tiny body had scabies and a large hemangioma covering nearly half of his face.

Hung, whose new name is Samuel, is now a healthy 18-year-old with a regular face.

"He just graduated high school and is about to start college," the 51-year-old adoptive mother in San Diego, the U.S., says.

Raising a kid is never easy, and the challenge was much greater for Hope and her husband.

Doctors told the couple on the first day Samuel arrived in the U.S. that he would be unable to speak or attend school normally like other kids.

She worked as an epidemiologist in Southeast Asia in the 1990s. During this time she came across many poor, sick children and wished to adopt one of them one day.

She recalls: "I always ask God for guidance. I had a dream one night that I was walking through HCMC."

Thinking her dream was a sign, she and her husband, John, contacted an orphanage in the city’s Go Vap District in 2005 and expressed their desire to adopt a child.

Nguyen Le Hung, or Samuel, when got adopted by Hope Ettores family in 2005. Photo courtesy of Hope Ettore

Nguyen Le Hung, or Samuel, when he was adopted by Hope Ettore's family in 2005. Photo courtesy of Hope Ettore

The orphanage introduced the couple to Nguyen Le Hung, a 16-month-old boy with hemangiomas and other health issues. They were taken aback when they saw the photo sent by the orphanage; they had no idea the child's condition was so serious.

The couple decided to pay a personal visit to see Hung. The boy was born in 2004 in southern Binh Phuoc Province. According to the birth certificate, his father's name was Le Xuan Hung and mother's name was Nguyen Thi Lien.

According to orphanage officials, Hung was born prematurely along with a twin brother. His parents sent him to an orphanage because he was too sickly and they could only keep one child.

They returned to the orphanage a few times to visit their child, missing him badly and planning to take him home, but the staff said he would die if he did not receive medical care. They advised the family to let the child stay and let someone adopt him and get him treated abroad.

"The first time I saw him, he looked up and gave me a big bright smile as if he was asking me for help," Hope recalls.

The couple decided to adopt him.

Hope gave birth to a daughter two weeks after returning to America.

With the newborn girl, Samuel and another boy adopted from Ethiopia -- both of the same age -- Ettores's family of four became seven strong.

They gave Samuel vitamin supplements and other medication in the first few months to give him strength before surgery to remove the hemangioma.

Samuel's tumor was filled with blood vessels and there was always a risk he could bleed to death.

The couple took him to a number of hospitals and met dozens of doctors, but no one dared operate on Samuel. They were in tears after one doctor agreed to perform the surgery.

The boy underwent five facial surgeries and also two eye surgeries to restore normal vision.

However the problems were nowhere near ending. Samuel still spoke and moved slower than other children, and to treat his developmental delay, the parents sought physical, speech and behavioral therapies for him.

At one point they even began to wonder if the treatments they sought were the right ones.

"I wondered if he'd have to rely on us for the rest of his life," Hope says.

Besides taking him for treatment, the couple and the other family members worked together every day to help Samuel change his destiny.

Samuel Ian Ettore poses for a photo in 2022. Photo courtesy of Hope Ettore

Samuel Ian Ettore poses for a photo in 2022. Photo courtesy of Hope Ettore

He says: "Not only did they have to pay exorbitant medical bills, but my parents and siblings taught me to walk, speak, read, and others. I grew up just like any other kid thanks to them."

The told him the truth about his origin since he is the family's only Asian member.

However, since he lives in a place with few people of Asian descent, he has few opportunities to learn about his homeland's culture.

Fearing her son would lose touch with his roots, Hope took him to traditional Vietnamese festivals in the U.S. and bought him books about Vietnam.

When the Ettores were able to contact the biological father of their adopted Ethiopian son more than two years ago, they were even more motivated to find Samuel's biological parents.

Hope says: "Samuel expressed a strong desire to reunite with his parents. They must miss him as much as he desires to find them. He also enjoys Vietnamese cuisine, particularly pho."

She repeatedly asked a Vietnamese friend living in the U.S., who is a member of the group Kids Without Borders, to help her find Samuel’s biological parents. But they did not know anything about them except their name and hometown.

Samuel with Hope Ettore (third from right) and his adoptive family in a family photo in 2022. Photo courtesy of Hope Ettore

Samuel with Hope Ettore (third from right) and his adoptive family in a family photo in 2022. Photo courtesy of Hope Ettore

Meanwhile, doctors told Hope that her breast cancer is worsening she does not have much time left to live.

As a result she spent lots of time sharing information online in two languages with a Vietnamese friend on various community groups to find Samuel’s parents.

On May 26 a woman from Binh Phuoc Province claimed to be Samuel's mother and contacted Hope's Vietnamese friend.

The friend then helped Hope and Samuel contact the person and do a DNA test.

Hope is optimistic: "I will be able to give Samuel the most meaningful gift of his 18th year."

She says if the woman turns out to be Samuel's real mother, she will accompany him to Vietnam to witness their reunion.

All she herself wants to do is to thank his birth parents for bearing the pain so that their son could get adopted and be treated abroad.

Despite everything she had to undergo, she says Samuel - Nguyen Le Hung has only been a blessing for her.

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