Wednesday, December 28, 2011

American families saving children with Down syndrome abandoned in Ukranian mental health institutions

From The Daily Mail in the UK:

Her beaming smile and the giant hug from her new sister is a world away from the lonely, uncertain life little Mia had been destined to face.

At just four years old, she was due to be transferred from her orphanage in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk to an adult mental health institution simply because she has Down syndrome.

There, she would have no hope of a family or an education - only the prospect of growing up in an environment of neglect.

But she now has a new, loving home, complete with adoring parents and siblings after her picture was spotted on the internet by American couple Kris and Kecia Cox.

'Her eyes were really what spoke to us first,' Mrs Cox told ABC World News. 'They just grabbed us, and we just knew that she was saying: "You're my mom and you're my dad, and you're supposed to come get me."

Her photograph was posted on the website for Reece's Rainbow, a nonprofit organisation that helps match disabled children - most of them with Down syndrome in eastern Europe - with families in the United States.

In the Ukraine, where society praises appearances, children with the condition are often abandoned at birth. Placing them in grotty institutions alongside adults with severe mental illness is quite common.

Mia (pictured), as she has been renamed by the Coxs, was born Kareen in Donetsk on Jaunary 15, 2007, but when she diagnosed with Down syndrome, her parents terminated their parental rights.

Just a month after Kareen was born, Mrs Cox received the same heartbreaking news Kareen's birth mother was told - her third daughter named Bree also had the condition. Kecia and Kris were devastated.

But their experience made them determined to bring some love into the life of someone in their daughter's position who was far less fortunate. So they started trawling Reece's Rainbow.

'We would come home at night and, you know, get up, get on our laptop and sit in bed and look through all these pictures of the babies and nothing stood out,' Mrs Cox said.

And then one day, when Kris was at work and Kecia was on the computer at home, she clicked on Kareen's picture. It was one she had seen before, but this time something pulled at her.

'When I came in and we sat down and started talking, she, I mean she just burst into tears,' Kris said. 'Basically just said: "I think I found our daughter."'

From then on, it was a family effort to raise money through yard sales and fundraisers to pay for the $30,000 adoption.

'I think we found our daughter': The couple spotted Mia through Reece's Rainbow, a non-profit organisation that helps match disabled children in eastern Europe with families in the United States

'I think we found our daughter': The couple spotted Mia through Reece's Rainbow, a non-profit organisation that helps match disabled children in eastern Europe with families in the United States

The girls - Kyra, nine, Adrie, six, and Bree - made bookmarks and manned lemonade stands. And perhaps the biggest sacrifice for three children, they dumped out their jar of coins they'd been saving for a family trip to Disneyland.

Kecia and Kris then embarked on a month-long trip to the Ukraine to complete the complex process of adopting.

When the couple walked into the orphanage for the first time, they were ushered into a large room with toys on a table and a large mural on the wall.

And then Kareen was brought in, carried by a nurse, her shortly hair carefully styled with tiny white rosettes.

'Priviet,' Kecia said to the little girl – 'Hello' in Russian. She reached out to touch her daughter for the first time.

When asked if they wanted to adopt her, they signed the papers on the spot.
Big hug: Mia welcomes Mr Cox as he arrives at the orphanage to start the adoption process

They returned to the orphanage the next day to start a routine that would last them the next 3½ weeks, taking Kareen to a small playground on a lot of unmowed grass outside the orphanage.

'She smiled a little when we first met her,' Kecia said. 'But after only a couple of days she had a sparkle in her eyes that she did not have before.'

As Kris carried her around the playground - she was a Daddy's girl from the very start - Kecia touched Kris' chest and told Kareen: 'Papa'

At the end of the 32-day stay, Kris and Kecia walked with her through the orphanage gates for the final time. Mia stopped to look behind her, but never looked back again.

In the weeks that followed, Mia changed a little bit more every day. Her pale skin became rosy from spending time in the summer sun, ABC News reported.

Doctors say her weak legs are much stronger and she will eventually walk normally. Her hair grew in thicker and she gained weight, benefiting from a new diet that included fruits, vegetables and protein.

She began learning sign language and now signs words like 'shoes'. She says 'bye-bye' and 'Papa' or 'Daddy' and knows what it means to 'give loves'.

Her sisters have taught her how to play on the swingset, how to terrorize the backyard in a motorized Barbie jeep, how to put on dance parties in the playroom.

'We haven't even touched on her capabilities. She has so much to give and that the world gets to see that now,' Kecia said. 'She doesn't have to be in a little white room hidden away because of an extra chromosome.'