NEW YORK – The parents of the infant tsunami survivor nicknamed "Baby 81" say they found it difficult to feel overjoyed about their reunion in the midst of so much tragedy.
The 4-month-old Sri Lankan baby and his parents, who were reunited after court-ordered DNA tests proved their relationship, appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America" Wednesday, a day after their 20-hour-long flight landed in New York.
"We know that something special happened to us, but surrounding us, everyone has lost people," said the baby's father, Murugupillai, through an interpreter. "We never truly felt joy."
The baby, whose real name is Abilass Jeyarajah (search), was pulled from his mother's arms by the tsunami of Dec. 26 and was found, caked in mud, hours later by rescuers who took him to a hospital. He was dubbed Baby 81 (search) because he was the 81st person admitted that day.
The couple could not immediately prove he was their son because they had lost their records and home in the tsunami, and eight other couples initially claimed him.
A court said the baby had to stay in the hospital until DNA testing could prove his parentage, and the family was not reunited until Feb. 16.
At one point, the parents stormed into the hospital and scuffled with nurses to reach their son.
"I got worried and anxious, I was fighting for my child, that's all I was doing," his mother, Jenita, said through an interpreter on Wednesday.
The family's reunion was a rare bright spot in a grim disaster that killed more than 172,000 people in 11 nations around the Indian Ocean. More than 125,000 are missing and presumed dead.
The baby's mother said the family doesn't like the nickname "Baby 81."
"That's a name that was given by the hospital," she said. "It's a name associated with sadness and worry."
Abilass, she said, means "hope."
Murugupillai and Jenita, who have never traveled outside their village, where he works as a barber, were granted expedited U.S. visas so they could make their American television debut. ABC paid for the trip in order to get the interview.
As the family arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Tuesday, the parents were smiling, while Abilass, dressed in a blue snowsuit and wearing a pink hat, went back to sleep.