American expat becomes ‘honorary uncle’ to Chiang Mai baby he found under a tree

Eric Ransdell’s Instagram photo of Baby Nong under tree that led to the reunion with her mother.
Eric Ransdell’s Instagram photo of Baby Nong under tree that led to the reunion with her mother.

An American expat who found a newborn girl under a Chiang Mai tree not only helped reunite the baby with her mother, he is taking his job as an honorary uncle seriously.

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Eric Ransdell was walking home on May 13 when he spotted a tiny arm poking out from a blanket under a tree. He pulled back the fabric to see a cherubic face. He was relieved to find the newborn, umbilical cord still attached, was still breathing and called Thai friends and police for help.

Emoon with her family inside their home in Chiang Mai.
Emoon with her family inside their home in Chiang Mai.

That began a story that has changed the St. Joseph, Missouri-native’s life and may one day become a Hollywood movie.

Abandoned babies are all too common in Thailand and it appeared this would be yet another sad story. But Ransdell’s rescue, and his Instagram photos of the little girl, ended up in Thai-language media where the child’s Burmese birth mother saw the scarf around the infant and discovered her baby was still alive.

Police had assumed 21-year-old Emoon, a migrant worker from Myanmar, had dumped the baby under a tree. The reality was something quite different.

Emoon had gone into labor while outside and gave birth to the child by herself. But she suffered substantial blood loss and passed out. When she awoke, Emoon said the baby wasn’t breathing. She then wandered the streets of Chiang Mai in a daze, carrying her “dead” baby, hoping to find a temple that would cremate it.


From there, things get fuzzy. No one knows how the baby ended up under that tree in a blanket. But, after some vigorous interrogation, police believed her story and reunited mother and child.

Ransdell checked on Emoon weekly while she was in the hospital and, when she was discharged, drove her and “Baby Nong” to her home, which she shared with her mother and two younger brothers. What he found shocked him, Ransdell recalled.

Eric Ransdell with Emoon outside her home.
Eric Ransdell with Emoon outside her home.

The family lived inside a garbage-recycling center, in a small hut with no running water, about 30 kilometers south of Chiang Mai. It was then, Ransdell said, he realized he needed to do something for this little girl and her family.

Emoon had worked in the Worarot fabric market in Chiang Mai, but lost her job when it closed during Thailand’s coronavirus lockdown. The baby’s Burmese father had returned home to renew his passport and got locked out when Thailand closed its borders.

On June 11, Ransdell set up a page on to raise money for formula and baby supplies. It has not done well, however, raising only US$330 to date.

That may change, however, if Ransdell’s friend in New York, a Broadway actress, has her way. When told Emoon’s story, she instantly decided to adapt it for the big screen.

Ransdell said the actress thought such an uplifting story is just what the world needs right now.

“Everybody’s living through this horrible Covid crisis, and they’re stuck at home,” Ransdell told his hometown St. Joseph newspaper in a recent interview. “And then suddenly here’s this kind of strange, but kind of wonderful, bit of good news out of nowhere. This baby gets found and then she gets reunited with her mother. It’s a really nice story.”

A version of this story originally appeared in the Bangkok Herald.