After being rescued from an orphanage in Saigon when he was just a child, Vance McElhinney, 43, finally met the mother he thought had died many years ago. Thanks to the filming of A Place to Call Home for the BBC Northern Ireland series True North, he has reunited with his long-lost family. Vance received an enormous amount of mail after the show. One piece, in particular, came from a woman who claimed to be his cousin. It included a photo of a child who shared a striking resemblance to him. Three months later he traveled to Vietnam and met with her at a café. She showed him a picture of his birth mother. Vance took a DNA test in 2017, and in February 2018, he got the confirmation he’d been waiting for. He then went back to meet his mother.

“I just said, ‘Hello mum,’ and she cried uncontrollably for a few minutes. There was no doubt in her mind, anyway, that I was her son,” he said. “She knew the DNA results were getting coverage, but I told her for sure when I saw her.” Vance explained, “It has been good getting to know her, but also difficult as my adopted mom passed away a few months ago. I feel torn between families. Even though my adopted family are behind me 100 percent, it’s still hard.”

In 1975 amidst the Vietnam War, President Gerald Ford ordered the evacuation of all orphans from Saigon. McElhinney was one of 100 children put on rescue flights. Rev. Canon Liz McElhinney and her husband Cyril saw the events unfold on the news and knew they wanted to help. They adopted a him and gave him the name Vance.

After all this time, he now knows how he ended up at the orphanage in the first place. Extended family took him to the orphanage while his mother was in the hospital for three weeks. He figures they planned to come back for him, but everything turned chaotic. When his mom was released from the hospital, she went to find him, but she was too late. The borders had been closed. She didn’t even know if he’d survived.

Now that child is all grown up, and he doing what he can to help children in need. He started the charity The Vance McElhinney Helping Hand Bursary Fund. To make donations, you can contact