Phung Thien Nhan, now known as the Miracle Baby of Vietnam, defied death after just three days of life.
Abandoned by his mother on a bed of pineapple leaves, Thien Nhan spent his first 72 hours starving, covered in insects, and in unthinkable pain from an animal bite that took off his right leg and genitals.
Two years later, he spent a recent morning playing with a new toy cell phone in his baby stroller.
“He adapts to new things very well,” said Tran Mai Anh, his adoptive mother. “Now he feels safe and happy.”
Thien Nhan and his family stopped in Seattle on Aug. 14 on their way to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire where doctors will perform surgery on the lower half of the boy’s body.
Sammamish resident Son Michael Pham met them at the airport. Pham, who is the founder of the Eastside-based nonprofit Kids Without Borders, raised the money needed for their transportation.
“We can’t help every cause, but when it comes to children, that’s where my weakness is,” Pham said.
For Thien Nhan, the surgery is just the beginning of his journey.
“It will take at least 15 years to recover and to go through treatment,” Tran said.
Tran and her husband, Phung Quang Nghinh, both journalists from Hanoi, first met Thien Nhan after hearing about his story on the news. Already a mother of two young boys, Tran’s maternal instinct kicked in.
“First, I wanted to have him with medical care,” she said.
Phung and Tran went to see the infant, who lived with his biological grandparents on a mountain in the rural Quang Nam province. In order to visit him, they needed to take a plane, a car and a motorbike. The mountain is so treacherous that it can’t be scaled by car.
The hardest part of adopting Thien Nhan was tracking down his birth mother, since her signature was needed for the adoption papers. But once it was made official, Thien Nhan melded into their family seamlessly.
“He copies my second son,” Tran said.
Phung and Tran’s oldest child is 8, and their middle child is 3. Tran said that Thien Nhan often has brotherly fights with his siblings, but whenever they quarrel, Thien Nhan makes sure that he has one brother on his side.
On a visit to the Rotary Club of University District where the family received a standing ovation from club members, President Lael Ross noted his intelligence.
“He’s absolutely adorable,” she said. “Very bright.”
Many people who meet the toddler are impressed – he seems so happy.
“After we adopted him, one day we took him to the local hospital (where he was first treated) and no one could believe he kept growing,” Tran said.
And with the help of doctors at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, he will only continue to thrive. According to help-thien-nhan.blogspot.com, Thien Nhan underwent preliminary tests on Tuesday in preparation for an innovative reconstructive surgery.
“We wish that this technology will apply to others, not just him,” Tran said. “We hope that Thien Nhan, with this new technique, will help other people.”
Tran has another, simpler wish for her youngest son.
“That’s what I imagine one day – him with his Walkman and running in the morning,” she said.