Traverse City Record-Eagle

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October 22, 2013

Heart-stopping discovery for Vietnamese exchange student

MANCELONA — Nguyen Duyen arrived in Mancelona in late August to attend school and learn English.

But a few weeks later the gentle, petite Vietnamese 17-year-old was diagnosed with a hole in her heart and told she must return to Vietnam. Since then her host mother — wanting her to stick with her dream — fervently took up her cause and found a legal way for her to stay the school year.

Now she is dealing with the biggest hurdle of all — the health care system.

Nguyen and her host mom, Jody Garchow, told their story at their modest home outside of Mancelona. Nguyen’s hometown is Ha Long, a city of 221,000 with soaring office buildings. Yet she loves the solitude of the woods of northern Michigan and has grown close to her host parents and four siblings.

Nguyen came to Mancelona through an exchange program called CCI Greenheart. Her parents saved for a year to pay $11,200 for a 10-month stay that included school and health insurance.

Shortly after school started, Nguyen took a sports physical to get on the cross country team and heard some shocking news.

“The nurse say there was something in my heart that’s not good,” Nguyen said.

Two days later, Garchow took her to Petoskey Heart and Vascular, which happened to be hosting a free clinic. Diagnostic tests showed a hole between two valves. About five days later, a University of Michigan doctor did an extensive electrocardiogram in Petoskey and broke the bad news in a two-hour conference with Nguyen, who used Skype to speak with her parents in Ha Long, while the doctor had a translator in Ho Chi Minh City on another phone.

Her mother told the doctor that Nguyen, born three months prematurely, weighed 3½ pounds at birth, but this was the first she knew of the defect. Soon afterward, CCI officials told Nguyen’s parents their daughter had to return home because of her pre-existing and congenital condition, which isn’t covered by its insurance policy.

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