By Jackie Hutchins
Loveland Daily Reporter-Herald
LOVELAND, Colo. (AP) — Tobi Snyder has had a special wish for much of her life.
And just before Christmas 2010, she sent off an e-mail with the hope that wish could be fulfilled.
Just after Christmas, she got an answer — and it set off a year of planning for a trip to the other side of the world.
In the coming year, she will get what she’s wanted for most of her life — she will travel to Thailand to thank in person the woman who made the life she has had possible.
Though she grew up in Loveland, Snyder was born in war-torn Vietnam in 1969.
Her parents and her birth date remain unknown.
But somehow, she arrived at the Phu My orphanage in Saigon. She’s been told she weighed only 2 1/2 pounds.
An Australian social worker, Rosemary Taylor, nursed her to health.
Taylor called her Benigna, which means “kind soul” in Vietnamese.
“I think that would be a good name for her, too,” Snyder said.
When Snyder was between 5 and 7 years old, she started to become aware of the details of her early life and she began to think about the woman who had saved her life. “I’ve always felt a real desire to be able to reconnect with Rosemary.
“I always knew there was someone I owed my life to,” she says. “There was someone out there who just really cared about humanity. I just really wanted to thank her.”
Many of the babies orphaned in Vietnam during the war died. But thanks to the care she got in the orphanage, Snyder survived.
At the age of 5 months and with her weight up to 5 pounds, healthy enough for a journey to the United States, she left the country of her birth to travel to Loveland, where a family awaited her.
Her new family named her Tobi Garrett and gave her the kind of life every child should have.
She’s grateful to her parents in Loveland, Ed and Kay Garrett, for all they gave her. They were fun, loving, caring, intelligent, and stable, she said. She had friends, adventures, and good role models. She established “real good, genuine friendships” in Colorado.
She gained two brothers, the Garretts’ biological sons, and a sister, Linsee, adopted from Vietnam about a year after Tobi.
She had opportunities to excel, learning to play the piano and flute, becoming an Olympic-level gymnast, and attending the University of Denver on scholarship.
Today, she’s a pharmacist at McKee Medical Center, and she lives in Windsor with her husband, Rick Snyder, and three sons, Logan, 10, Lucas, 7, and Nathan, 6.
She’s talked to her sons about her background. They don’t fully understand it, but they ask questions.
“They can’t believe that I might have been born in a rice field,” she said.
She’s told them that at birth, she was probably small enough to fit into a pair of cupped hands. “I probably looked like a drowned rat.”
In November 2010, Snyder read a book, “After Sorrow Comes Joy,” by Cherie Clark, who wrote of her own efforts to save Vietnamese orphans in the 1970s.
The book mentioned Rosemary Taylor several times.
So Snyder contacted the author, and that connection inspired her again to try to find Taylor.
“She really stirred these emotions up and desire and commitment to go forward with it,” Snyder says.
And with the Internet to help, something she didn’t have when she first tried to search for Taylor when she was young, she stayed up to 3 a.m. many nights to conduct searches. Someone she e-mailed just before Christmas last year forwarded her e-mail on to Taylor.
There were few documents to help her search. Forty years have passed. “To be able to contact the person who saved my life is against all odds,” Snyder said. But just after Christmas, she got an e-mail from Taylor.
Taylor is in her 70s now. She spends part of the year in Thailand working, and part in her native Australia.
So Snyder will travel to Thailand in late March to reunite with her. “That will be literally a dream come true,” she said.
And she believes she will be fulfilled when she gets to say thank you in person.
“People affect each other so much,” Snyder said. Each life Taylor saved affected many others. “She’s really changed the world in her small way, in a big way.”
Snyder and her mother also plan to travel to Vietnam, to see the Phu My orphanage, which is still standing.
She hasn’t been back to Vietnam since she came to the United States in 1969. “I’m sure it will be a real eye-opener,” she said.
As Snyder looks forward to her trip, she has more questions.
She wonders what her biological mother looks like. “Is she alive or is she dead? Does she remember me?”
She’d like to thank her for giving her birth — not aborting her.
Last summer, Snyder attended a reunion of other Vietnamese orphans in St. Louis, where she got to meet Clark and other people who had worked in the orphanages.
Taylor had sent a letter greeting the former orphans, but warned them they probably will never be able to find their biological parents. In many cases, aid workers knew nothing of the identity of babies dropped off at the orphanage or found abandoned along roads.
“The important thing now is that you are all adults, and you are responsible for your own lives. What you make of this life depends on you, and not on any biological family,” Taylor wrote.
“I urge you to take in hand your own future, and whatever the past, resolve to make your life fruitful, so that this world will be a better place because of your personal contribution of loving service wherever you find yourself,” she added.
“I think she wants to be realistic,” Snyder said. “She doesn’t want to get our hopes up.”
Even before reading that letter, Snyder knew the chances are slim she can find her biological family when she gets to Vietnam, but she says she may still try.
“I didn’t think finding Rosemary would be possible, but I did,” she said.
Snyder knows her life shows one person can make a huge difference to another, but she thinks another lesson from her life may be that persistence can help people accomplish their dreams.
“Keep trying and trying. You never know what you’re going to achieve.” (end)