Covid-19: 'I've waited two years to meet my baby daughter'

By Sara Neill

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image captionVance McElhinney met his 20-month-old baby for the first time on Wednesday

In 1975, baby Vance McElhinney was flown out of war-torn Vietnam to Northern Ireland.

More than 45 years later, his 20-month-old daughter made the same journey, to meet her father for the very first time.

Until the coronavirus pandemic hit, Vance was a frequent visitor back to Vietnam.

It is where he met his biological mum and where his pregnant partner Le had been living.

The plan was for Vance and Le's baby to be born in Northern Ireland but Covid-19 put a stop to that.

Vance could get back to Northern Ireland but Le could not.

'Butterflies in my stomach'

After more than a year, a global pandemic, a birth and several phone calls to the Home Office, Le and baby Liz were on their way to their new home in Northern Ireland.

And Vance was at Belfast City Airport to meet them.

media caption"I have butterflies in my stomach"

"It's just nice now that I'll see the two of them in person," he said.

"I wasn't there at the birth and I haven't seen her first walk - all the things that parents take for granted I couldn't do."

After waiting almost two years, Vance paced in the airport until he sees Le waving and walking towards him, hand in hand with their 20-month-old daughter.

Vance hadn't slept all night.

"I have butterflies in my stomach and I've been thinking: Is Liz going to run to me? Is she going to be asleep? Is she going to acknowledge me at all?"

'Something I'll treasure'

He had brought a soft toy for her.

"Liz is a big fan of Winnie the Pooh and each time we videoed I would show Liz this and she would bring her Winnie," he explained.

Everyone seemed overwhelmed, not least baby Liz who isn't sure what to make of a real life father and Winnie the Pooh - not helped by the long journey from Vietnam to the UK.

image captionThe family want to build their future in Northern Ireland

As Le and Liz adapt to the overcast Belfast summer, Vance couldn't help but smile.

"It's amazing that the two of them are here and seeing Liz walking through the doors is something I'll treasure," he said.

"It's been a long haul but now I can enjoy being a family and do the things a family does.

"I can change a nappy and be there for Le because she's had to do all the rearing up herself until now."

The couple plan to get married and - visas permitting - are going to settle in Northern Ireland and become part of the community, just like Vance did back in 1975.

"I was 18/19 months when I came over here and for me to adjust at that age and learn the culture takes time," he said.

"I've been there and done it - it's going to be a hard road ahead but it'll be worth it.

"I'm going to be there for the two of them - be a father and protect them."

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