As refugees from Myanmar, Lao and Sai Leng had already overcome extraordinary obstacles fleeing hunger and civil war in their home country. Their journey to the U.S. was years long and dramatic, including detention and separation just as their young family began to grow. Being reunited safely in the U.S. with their first child, Yi, (and expecting a second) was a significant victory, but not the end of their struggles.

They were resettled in Charlottesville and got right to work learning the language and the culture. With young children, they had to learn how to access health care, how to prepare for school, how to drive, and get a job. The International Refugee Committee referred them to CHiP, and their CHiP team walked beside them as they learned to navigate the complexities of American life. Even learning about new foods and how to prepare them was a revelation.

But then the unthinkable happened. At about 7 months old, their second child, Charlie, was diagnosed with Leigh’s Disease, a rare genetic degenerative disorder with a devastating prognosis. Doctors told them Charlie might not live to see his second birthday.

Now at age 4, Charlie is on a ventilator (on which he will always depend) and doing much better than anticipated with the help of many therapies and his parents’ devoted care and attention. Yi is thriving in school, and the family welcomed a healthy baby girl, Isabella, last summer.

Lao and Sai Leng have worked tirelessly in the face of tremendous challenges to simply provide a good life for their family. They have devoted themselves to Charlie’s care, while meeting the needs of their other two children, and they have done so with a sense of gratitude and joy that is truly inspiring.

“No matter how far we go, Charlie’s happiness – my family’s happiness – that’s the goal, to be happy and living a happy life.” ~Nang Home Lao

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