Agent Orange Victim Becomes Calendar Girl

The nine-year-old has a congenital deformity in her chest bones that press against her heart and lungs making breathing painful and difficult. Ly’s face is also disfigured, a common feature among those born into families exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
 
Between 1961 and 1971, the US Army sprayed some 80 million liters of Agent Orange over 30,000 square miles of southern Vietnam. The deadly chemical is named after the orange stripes on the barrels in which the defoliant was stored by the army.
 
By the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, nearly 4.8 million Vietnamese people had been exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in 400,000 deaths.
 
Ly is the third generation in her family dealing with the deadly effects of the defoliant. Her grandfather Le Duy Tinh, a Vietnamese soldier who served in Quang Tri Province, the forefront of many battles during the war, was exposed first to the toxin.
 
Ly lives with her parents and brother in Da Nang City’s Ngu Hanh Son District.
 
People around the country have become familiar with the tragic family story since American photographer Ed Kashi’s photo of Ly won the UNICEF “Photo of the Year 2010” contest.
 
Ly’s parents were delighted on being told by this Thanh Nien reporter on a recent visit to her house that her photograph had won a global competition.
 
But their joy was short-lived as they retold the story of Ly’s life and daily struggles.
 
Ly’s mother, Le Thi Thu, said her father was exposed to the dioxin at the Quang Tri battlefield during the Vietnam War.
 
“My brother and I suffered congenital deformities because of our father’s exposure. My brother died a few years after being born. I have lived with both pain and shame throughout my life,” she said.
 
Thu said she was lucky her husband Duong was willing to marry her despite her physical flaws.
 
Unfortunately, she gave premature birth to Ly, who also suffered similar deformities. At birth, Ly weighed only 1.7 kilograms; it was a miracle that she survived, said Thu.
 
At five years, Ly couldn’t walk and had a very limited vocabulary. Luckily, Thu’s second child was a healthy son. The siblings study in the third grade at Pham Hong Thai Primary School in Hai Chau District.

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