In 2007 when I first got pregnant with my son Billy in Vietnam, I went for the first pregnancy check‑up at a hospital and found out I was positive to hepatitis B. At that time, I did not feel worried or anything different when being told that I had the disease. I now can easily think of many possible reasons why I had no concerns about having hepatitis B.

Firstly, hepatitis B was so prevalent in Vietnam, knowing there were lots of people including some of my friends and family members with hepatitis B, I felt very normal about it. Secondly, my obstetricians at the time showed no concern about my health condition as a result of the disease and did not refer me to any hepatitis specialists for further advice or check-up. I was not concerned, thus I never had any further tests done for my hepatitis B and I thought I’d be healthy living like that without having any tests done until I moved to Australia.

In 2009 I left Vietnam for Australia, I came here to study and planned to stay in Australia to settle here permanently with my family in Melbourne. The time had gone by, I was so busy with my studies and learning to adapt to the new life here, as a result my hepatitis B was completely forgotten until two years later, my aunt encouraged me to go see GP for a general health check-up with full blood tests done. She kept saying that Australia healthcare systems are very advanced and modern, so I did. I went to see a local GP and got all the tests done, when coming back to see him again for the blood tests results, the GP told me I was positive to hep B and asked if I knew about this. I wasn’t surprised and honestly told him the history of my hep B in Vietnam. He seemed so worried about it and referred me to a specialist in Melbourne.

Taking the advice of the GP, I started seeing the specialist. In the first consultation, we went through all the information about my hep B, the doctor explained everything in-depth about the disease and its stages from mild to severe. The information I was given sounded scarily overwhelming but I was very grateful for the knowledge that he gave me, it had really woken me up and helped me to start taking the right views on the disease that I was living with.

I took seriously every advice from my specialist and started seeing him twice a year. By the time I saw him, my hep b was at the stage that needed a treatment with antiviral medicines. However, the drug fees were too expensive for a temporary resident like me so I had to purchase the medicines in Vietnam and was diligently taking the drugs for 7 years. My hep B had improved significantly since then and the viral loads had become undetectable.

However, what I had done for my health didn’t seem enough to meet the health requirements for a permanent resident (PR) visa.  I applied for my visa through a job sponsorship working as an early childhood educator in Canberra, but after 3 years of waiting, in 2019 my PR got rejected by the Department of Home Affairs. I was told my ongoing hep B treatments would be a burden on Australian taxpayers because of the drug fees. I then applied for an appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), but they denied my application again in April last year, which led to me facing deportation. I tried again by making another appeal to the Minister of Immigration asking him to exercise his discretion. At first he didn’t intervene and determinedly asked me and Billy to leave the country. I thought that was it, so I left Canberra and got myself ready for a departure in October last year after attending the HBV conference in Melbourne.

Thanks to the event, I had a chance to expose my story in the wider Hepatitis Community in Australia. It touched the hearts of many great people who believed that it wasn’t fair for me to face deportation due to me having hepatitis B in this country. Those great people were my specialists and experts from St Vincent hospital, other experts from The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne, Hepatitis Victoria, and a pharmaceutical company who then wrote a group letter and sent it to the Minister and together with more than thirty thousands of people signing my petition on the Change.Org calling on the Minister to let us stay. Hard work paid off, in November 2019 the minister finally used his power to save our application. He granted us a one-year visa, which allowed me and Billy to stay back in Australia for Billy to study, and for me to work and find another chance to reapply a new visa during this period.

Billy and I moved back to Canberra in January this year resetting our lives again here. I’m now working at an Early Learning Centre and will be sponsored by my workplace. This will help us stay and eventually will give us a pathway to apply for permanent residency again in the future.

My son Billy has always been negative to hep B. He was protected with a hepatitis B immunoglobulin vaccine at birth. As opposed to Billy, I was not lucky enough to get vaccinated for hep B when I was a baby. In the early 80s when I was born, Vietnam had just started rebuilding its country after the Vietnam war, therefore the healthcare systems back then were very poor and my parents could not get any support from the Government to help us get vaccinated against any diseases. As a result, one of my siblings and I got contracted the disease and found out we were positive to hep B when we were in our early 20s. Until now we still don’t know how exactly we contracted it. However, as we have both developed chronic hep B, we can only suspect that we must have had it from a very young age.

I am now in Australia and feel very privileged that my health has been looked after by the very best healthcare systems and specialists. I couldn’t be happier and healthier with my hep B. In October last year I was asked to stop taking antiviral medication and since then I have been having blood tests done and seeing my specialist in Melbourne every three months. My hep B results have since been amazing with undetected viral loads.

On this occasion, I’d like to one more time thank so much those who have genuinely helped us going through the hardships of my visa ordeal. Without your tremendous support, we wouldn’t have had a chance to stay back in Australia and to share with you my story today.