For Tsunami’s Baby 81, Fame Brought Misfortune

By Shihar Aneez for Reuters:

BATTICALOA, Sri Lanka (Reuters) – The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami brought international fame to Baby 81, but the parents of the two-month-old who miraculously survived the deadly wave say it has only brought misfortune.

Found in the debris left by the wave that wrecked swathes of Sri Lanka’s coast and killed 226,000 along the Indian Ocean rim, Abhilash Jeyaraj became a phenomenon after international media reported nine sets of parents had come forward to claim him.

He was brought to the hospital by a villager who found him and, since he had no identification, was named after his hospital admission number: Baby 81.

After his injured parents got out of another hospital two days later and went to claim him, a media storm erupted, which eventually forced Abhilash’s parents to go to the police and courts to get their son back.

They were even arrested when they tried to force their way into the hospital to get their son back and could only bring him home after the father supplied a DNA sample — six weeks after the tsunami.

Subsequent accounts have pointed out the real story was blown far out of proportion — there were no other couples trying to claim the child.

A TV crew filmed Baby 81 and the rushes were seen by a wire agency reporter. Whether it was a mistake in translation or some other kind of misunderstanding is unknown, but a report then ran that “nine desperate heartbroken women” were all claiming the child as their own.

But for Abhilash’s father, Muruhappillai Jeyaraj, the unrelenting media hullabaloo over a vast misunderstanding has been a personal experience almost worse than the tsunami itseslf…

[continues at Reuters]