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Orange County woman, whose stem cell transplant was delayed by officials, dies

Garden Grove resident Helen Huynh (center) had been battling an aggressive form of leukemia that doctors sought to stop with a stem cell transplant from her sister, who was allowed to enter the country from Vietnam after a months-long struggle with U.S. officials.
Garden Grove resident Helen Huynh (center) had been battling an aggressive form of leukemia that doctors sought to stop with a stem cell transplant from her sister, who was allowed to enter the country from Vietnam after a months-long struggle with U.S. officials.
Courtesy: Yvonne Murray

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A Garden Grove woman with leukemia, who last fall pegged her hopes for recovery on a stem cell transplant from her sister in Vietnam, has died.

Helen Huynh, 61, died from complications from pneumonia on Friday, her daughter Yvonne Murray said Monday. 

Last year, officials with the U.S. State Department had repeatedly denied Huynh's sister a visa to enter the U.S. before ultimately allowing her in. The delay pushed the transplant back for several months. 

“Had my aunt gotten her visa sooner and my mom gotten her stem cell transplant earlier, she would have had a much better chance of fighting the leukemia," Murray said. 

Recent tests had shown that the cancer had spread to Huynh's brain, and she had been hospitalized in intensive care, where she contracted pneumonia, Murray said. 

Huynh, who's a U.S. citizen, caught the attention of the media and a congressman last year after the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City denied a visa request from her sister three times. The sister was considered a perfect match for a stem cell transplant recommended by doctors. 

Huynh's sister was finally given permission to enter the U.S. under "humanitarian parole," which allows individuals into the U.S. for a limited period of time in an emergency situation. But it was, by then, three months later and Huynh's health had greatly declined. 

Stem cell transplant is never guaranteed. Many leukemia patients die of complications related to the disease, not the disease itself. 

Yvonne Murray said she plans to fight for changes to the visa process for medical emergencies in hopes that others in her mom's position will have a better chance at survival.

“I really want to see this change," she said.

Huynh's funeral is scheduled for Feb. 10. 

Do you have a story to share about visas for medical emergencies? Contact the reporter @jillrep on Twitter.