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She’s a Survivor, and So Much More

  • A photo on North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools’ website shows graduating senior Vilayvanh Phanhvanh – known to all as Boun Lod – looking confidently into the camera’s eye, a soccer ball atop her head. 

    She’s wearing a bright orange tee shirt, short-sleeved, baring the stubs where her arms should be.                                                                                                                    

    Lod was badly burned as a newborn in her parents’ home in Laos in Southeast Asia. Doctors trying to save her life amputated both arms at the elbow and treated her extensive burns but told her parents they had little hope for her survival.

    It was a nurse, tending to her in the family home, who dubbed her Boun Lod (boon-LOUD) – “miracle survivor.” 

    Lod has survived, and succeeded, overcoming impossibly long odds to graduate in June 2022 from High Point Central High School, with plans in the fall to attend Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.

    Over her tender years, numerous benefactors have boosted Lod’s fortunes. A Canadian couple underwrote multiple rounds of treatment at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Cincinnati. A foster family in Ohio was there for her when, at age 13, she resisted her parents’ wishes and opted to stay in the United States. Later, she moved to North Carolina to live with relatives. 

    In Laos, Lod had faced taunts and ridicule for her disfiguring injuries and rejections trying to enroll in school, despite her mother’s efforts. If she had stayed in Laos, she would have faced a bleak future, she believes. “I would feel like a misfit. I wouldn’t get any education because of how I looked,” she told WFMY news outlet.

    “Be strong, keep fighting,” her mom told her (according to a feature on Lod’s journey published by the school district). “Prove people at home that they’re wrong.”

    In terms of education, Lod had to play catch up – and then began to blossom socially and in sports and to excel academically.

    “I did pretty well, I think!” she told WFMY. “I tried my very best considering I didn’t get an education until late, then out of nowhere I was in high school.”

    At High Point Central, Lod took Advanced Placement courses and participated in the Guilford County Schools’ Career and College Promise program, earning credits at Guilford Technical Community College. This spring she received the High Point Student Leader Award and the Sports Courage Award.

    As a freshman, Lod met senior Reilly Williams, a standout soccer player, who welcomed her to the soccer team. And, Reilly described Lod’s special circumstances to her mom, Meredith Williams, who set about helping Lod obtain a Permanent Resident (or Green) Card to stay in the United States. At some point, Reilly created a page on GoFundMe.com and raised nearly $12,000 to cover legal expenses related to obtaining the card.

    Lod’s network of support has grown during her time at High Point: Meredith Williams and four other women (dubbed Boun’s Moms) have helped the student make appointments and apply for college. They’ve set up an education fund to help with college, and that fund has received a sizable donation from a couple who learned about Lod from their friend, who happened to be Lod’s immigration lawyer. Yet another benefactor paid for a prosthetic arm, which Lod is still getting used to.

    Since age 2, Lod has mastered many tasks using her feet, literally: first to hold a fork, and now “to write, type, brush my teeth do my hair and dress,” she said.

    As a teenager, she has excelled at soccer. “Soccer turned me into a leader,” Lod told WFMY. “It made me more outspoken and able to stand up for myself because that is what you do on the field. When the other team does you wrong, you have to call it out to the ref.”

    She plans to study either psychology or political science at Appalachian State and already has a career goal in mind: to be a motivational speaker to let other amputee and burn victims know that anything is possible.

    “I’m not afraid to tell people about what happened to me,” said Lod, according to the district news feature. “I can be myself. And just being me, I know that’s going to be enough.”

    Commented principal Shelley Nixon-Green: “We got to watch her grow, and that’s the best thing about education. They get to become who they want to become, and I can’t wait to see what happens with Lod.”

person with soccer ball on their head
Boun Lod