Traverse City Record-Eagle

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December 6, 2013

U-M to fix teen's broken heart

MANCELONA — The University of Michigan stepped forward with a gift of open heart surgery for Nguyen Duyen, a Vietnamese exchange student who has lived under a cloud of uncertainty and stress for months.

Nguyen, 17, feared she’d have to leave her host family in Mancelona, owing to the heart defect discovered in September. She recently learned that U-M’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital will pick up the medical tab. Surgery is scheduled for Dec. 13, and Nguyen’s mom will fly in from Vietnam next week to be with her, said Jody Garchow, her host mother.

“It was just so relieving that someone besides me realized this was a big deal and needed to be fixed, and we shouldn’t just push her home. That’s what I was getting from the exchange company. ‘Send her home. Send her home,’” Garchow said.

Garchow has been a fierce ally of Nguyen, a petite 17-year-old, who was unaware she had problems until a nurse heard a heart murmur during a routine sports physical.

Nguyen’s heart defect was diagnosed by Catherine Webb, a traveling U-M pediatric cardiologist. She said part of Nguyen’s heart is missing, and surgeons need to put that piece back.

The wall between Nguyen’s right and left atrium is missing, which is called an atrial septal defect, she said.

Soon after the diagnosis, CCI Greenheart, the company handling Nguyen’s exchange, insisted Nguyen return to Vietnam because its insurance policy didn’t cover her pre-existing condition. A CCI official later told a reporter the company believes it’s in the child’s best interest to return home to their parents in such situations.

But Garchow fought for her to stay in the U.S., fearing she wouldn’t receive adequate treatment in Vietnam. It turns out that U-M pediatric surgeon Richard Ohye agreed with her.

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