Vietnamese Bomb Victim Now A Model, Paralympic Hopeful

Josephine Thompson

Journalist

Haven Shepherd, 14, was a baby in Vietnam when her parents committed suicide by detonating an explosive. They ended their lives because their affair would have never been accepted - and cost her both legs below the knee. Born as Phuong Twi Do, she was going to be put into a shelter by her biological grandparents who were too poor to take care of her. However, the 20-months-old baby was adopted by the Shepherd family from Carthage, Missouri, who flew 8,500 miles to bring her home.

Haven learned to use prosthetic legs and became interested in sports, becoming a swimmer at 4, and only progressing further from there. She hopes to represent the USA at the Paralympic Games, and she has joined Models of Diversity to show others that being different can't stop you from being a model.

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"I grew up hearing how I lost my leg and felt like it was a normal thing that had happened to others, it was only as the years went on that I realised I'm probably the only one with this story," says Haven.

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"I tell people the truth, that my parents had an affair and had me, but in Vietnam women cannot divorce, so when they committed suicide and all the damage was done to my legs. It's a hard pill to swallow but I can't avoid it and have to tell the truth about what happened."

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"One of my earliest memories is my sisters telling me that while I am different from them, my differences are what make me who I am and special from everyone else," said Haven.

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"My family have always been very supportive and taught me not to be held back because I have to use prosthetics. I remember once watching girls playing basketball thinking I couldn't do it because I didn't have legs, then one of my sisters said I had to try. She told me that I wasn't going to sit on the bench feeling sorry for myself, at the time I thought she was being mean but it really helped. Since then I've participated in track events, other sports and when I tell people I swim at such a high level they are blown away."

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"The thing I love the most about swimming is getting to take off my legs and feel comfortable in the water, I feel free without my prosthetics, I'm in my own world in the water. I've also started modeling after realizing a bunch of people weren't happy with who they are, I want to show them it's OK to be different," recounts Haven.

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"I want them to see the unique things about themselves in a positive way and that diversity is a good thing, if I feel comfortable they can too."

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The parents Shelly and Rob, 56 and 57, found her through the Touch A Life Foundation for homeless children back in 2005. They flew out to Vietnam to get her. "We heard about what happened to Haven and were told her grandparents were too poor to take care of her," said Shelly, mother of seven.

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"Despite my husband's reservations about adopting, he fell in love with Haven instantly, she wouldn't ride in the car unless he was there. Haven wouldn't even nap unless he was holding her, over time she made us realise that she chose us and that not having legs wasn't a big deal."

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