Garden Grove woman dies after family fought US government to get her life-saving transplant

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (KABC) -- Helen Huynh, a Garden Grove mother who battled leukemia and the U.S. government, lost her battle with cancer even after receiving the life-saving treatment from her sister.

After hearing her story, so many rallied to her side in the hopes of saving her. But despite her death, her daughter said Helen's fight is not over.

Yvonne Murray fought desperately for the better part of a year to save her mother's life. But last Friday, Helen died.

It's crushing enough to lose a loved one, but this family's road was especially difficult, making it all the more painful.

Eyewitness News introduced people to Helen's story in September. She was barely clinging to life in intensive care. What made her story maddening was that she could have been saved with a timely stem cell transplant.

Her sister, Thuy, in Vietnam was a 100 percent match, giving Helen an exceptional chance of survival. But the U.S. government would not grant Thuy a visa - even to help save her sister.

"If we were an Italian American or a Scottish American, then our family member could just come on the plane and come here anytime. They can come here and go to Disneyland if they wanted to," Murray said.

Tourists from certain countries are allowed in, but it varies for other countries - and entry can be denied even to save an American citizen's life, which Helen was.

After the story aired, Helen made headlines around the world. Sen. Kamala Harris and others joined the fight. Eventually, Thuy was granted entry to the U.S. to provide the life-saving stem cells.

Eyewitness News was even there at LAX, two weeks later, as Thuy arrived in the states.

On Oct. 27, the world watched as Helen received the stem cell transplant at City of Hope Hospital in Duarte.

At the hospital, Helen was even given a birthday party to signify her rebirth - her second chance at life. But it was too late - valuable months had been lost trying to get Thuy here.

Helen was too weak and lost the battle with the aggressive form of leukemia.

"I think what's most heartbreaking for me is to have to watch my dad go through it," Murray said.

Vien Huynh fought alongside the U.S. in the Vietnam War. He came to America with Helen to live the American dream: becoming citizens and raising a family. Next month would have been their 35th anniversary.

"He just wept," Murray said. "I mean, I've never seen my dad - I've never seen anybody cry like that before. It was just heartbreaking to see my dad going through that."

But Murray said their fight to show how government bureaucracy cost her mother's life isn't over.

"A lot of people approached us, telling us that they were going through the same thing, which was very heartbreaking," Murray said.

Families from San Diego, Pittsburgh and Arkansas were all looking for help. Thuy is not being allowed back into the states for her sister's funeral.

But Helen's life stands for something more and it has given Murray purpose.

"There should be a higher priority for someone to come to the U.S. to save a life versus someone coming to the U.S. just to go to Disneyland," Murray said.

Karin Wang is with Asian Americans for Advancing Justice, a civil rights organization, and is working with Helen's family to raise awareness.

"I think it's helpful when the public hears these stories to rally behind these families," Wang said.

She went to say that Murray has not only become a champion for her mom, but for many others in the same situation.

"It's the people who are willing to dig in and say, 'This wasn't right and I need to say something about it,'" Wang said. "That's actually how change happens."

Murray tearfully recalled how much Helen gave of herself.

"Now that I am a mother myself, I see that she sacrificed so much for us," Murray said.

While the fight continues, it still doesn't take away from Murray's deep despair.

"I will say that if she was here I would tell her I'm sorry. She worked so hard and I am so sorry, mom," Murray said.

One of Helen's other daughters has Down syndrome, and now the family is struggling for a way to tell her that her mother died.

Helen's story is about standing up for what's right, no matter how difficult. And as more cases of families facing the same challenges pop up all over the country, Helen's fight lives on.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help with the family's expenses. If you would like to help, you may visit
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