Third generation Agent Orange victim hopes for a cure before she turns 30
Jenna Mack (left), a 17-year-old American beauty queen and third-generation Agent Orange victim, and Heather Bowser, a second-generation victim, sign a banner promoting justice for Vietnamese Agent Orange victims during their visit to Ho Chi Minh City in early September. Photo: Tuoi Tre
In beauty pageants these days, charity has become a must-have adornment, more as a matter of political correctness than as a driving passion.
Seventeen-year-old Jenna Mack, on the other hand, was driven to beauty contests because she wanted to use them as a catalyst to push her personal and social agenda to highlight the plight of Agent Orange victims, among whom she counts herself.
Jenna, a third generation victim of Agent Orange, says she believes winning beauty contests would give her a better position to make the world believe what she says about other victims like her.
Recently crowned Royal International Miss Teen California and National Miss Heart at the USA Supreme Beauty contest, Jenna visited many Agent Orange victims in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang earlier this month as a guest educator on the Peace Boat.
Also on the boat was Heather Bowser, a second-generation sufferer and an Agent Orange awareness activist, and Kenneth H. Young, a Canadian veteran and first generation Agent Orange victim.
In Da Nang, which is an Agent Orange hotspot, Jenna went to a support center for children born with Agent Orange-related illnesses.
Her destinations in Ho Chi Minh City included Hoa Binh (Peace) Village, which accommodates disabled children, including many victims of the Agent Orange at the Tu Du Hospital.
She says she was scared on seeing deformed embryos kept in jars with formaldehyde solution, as they seemed very connected to her own life.
"I use pageants and my titles to speak about Agent Orange and how it has affected my life," Jenna said in a Peace Boat report.
"This issue is very close to my heart because my mother is a second generation Agent Orange survivor. She was born with severe hip dysplasia, suffers from lupus (an autoimmune disorder) and developed an extremely rare form of malignant cancer five years ago."
Her grandfather James Sciaccotti, 65, served in the US Air Force in Vietnam between 1968 and 1970. He was exposed every day to Agent Orange, which caused her mother, Tanya Mack, to suffer a potent genetic mutation.
Agent Orange, containing the toxic chemical dioxin, was sprayed by the US army to remove foliage providing cover for the enemy, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs. The Vietnamese government estimates 400,000 people were killed or maimed, and another half-million children were born with birth defects.
Tanya, 38, did not experience any improvement with her hip dysplasia despite around 30 operations. Then the battle became harsher five years ago when she was diagnosed with marrow cancer, which cost her US$3,000 per month for medication after insurance.
"It has affected my life quite a bit," Tanya told the local Patch news website in Murrieta, the family's hometown. "It has been a huge roller coaster. As the oldest child, Jenna has seen it all."
Jenna, the oldest of three children, said she knew all the facts when she was 16, but had a felt all the pain much earlier.
Tanya said she felt sad that Jenna had to grow up fast because of her illness. She's fed her, bathed her, watched her endure surgeries, gone with her to experimental treatments, and at 16 was taught how to give injections to her.
Jenna has attended numerous pageants on the platform of Agent Orange, first to help her own mother and then other second generation victims, Tanya said.
"I find that many people see my youth as a downfall when it comes to discussing Agent Orange, and
I happen to believe that it's one of the greatest things I have to offer.
"My fight for it is just beginning. I am the next generation to carry on the legacy, I am a third generation Agent Orange survivor," she said in the Peace Boat report.
She has spoken at engagements at Camp Pendleton and at University of California, Berkeley, and helped many others of her age group learn about what she knows.
Jenna said she doesn't care that coming out as an Agent Orange victim could create disadvantages in getting married or employed.
She said she only cares about using her title to stress the danger of the toxin, as many people do not understand or know the truth about the damage it has caused and can cause.
In Vietnam, she has prepared a list of second and third generation victims of Agent Orange, saying she would come back soon with practical support.
She said looking at embryos at the Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City reminded her of her twin sister who died at birth because of Agent Orange, and caused her to imagine her children in the future.
Jenna carries the mutation within her body. Doctors are watching closely.
She fears she could come down with cancer when she hits her 30s, when the ailment has struck others whose parents were poisoned by Agent Orange.
She told The Press Enterprise: "It's scary but hopefully by the time I'm in my 30s, there will be a cure."
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