At Heart, Their Greatest Need

Six-year-old Claire Peddicord has a heart condition and received heart surgeries both in China and once home with her family in Tennessee. But her parents, Kristin and Casey, have learned that one special need is even greater than her heart condition. It’s one that all waiting children have, and any loving adoptive family can meet. 

In a sweet denim dress and a big yellow bow in her hair, 6-year-old Claire Peddicord walks hand-in-hand with her parents, Casey and Kristin, down the path from their Tennessee farmhouse to a nearby hay field. She climbs up on a hay bale and asks her dad to hoist her two little dogs up, too. She wants them to sit with her.

An hour later, she cartwheels across the living room floor as her favorite Toby Mac song plays in the background. Alternating looks of deep concentration and excitement play across her face.

Seeing her here, playing, dancing, running up and down the stairs with her toys, you would never know all that she has gone through. You’d never know that Claire has a heart condition.

Openness to Special Needs Adoption

From the beginning, Kristen and Casey felt comfortable with most of the special needs their child might come home with.

“There were just a few things that as first-time parents,” Casey says, “we thought, ‘OK, maybe that’s something we can’t do right now, but could do later.’ But for the most part, we were fairly liberal with it.”

So when it came time to decide which medical and developmental conditions they would be open to, they marked nearly all of the boxes on the special needs checklist.

“I went into it with the mindset of, OK, if we were to get pregnant, we’re not guaranteed a perfectly healthy baby,” Kristin said. So in faith, they waited.

The phone call came one afternoon in February.

“[Holt] called us and said, ‘We have a file for you to look at. It’s a little girl, and she’s 3 years old.’ We saw her little picture, and she was in a pink coat, and I instantly fell in love!” Kristin says.

But even so, the idea of a heart condition caught them slightly off guard.

“I don’t know what I was expecting,” Kristin says. “But I wasn’t expecting to get a file for a heart condition. I was kind of taken back by that and really, really nervous.”

From the beginning of their adoption process, they prayed that the first child whose file they read would be “the one” — that they would feel comfortable enough to move forward right away. And after seeing Claire’s picture for the first time, there was no question. So the research began.

Learning About Heart Conditions

They learned that Claire had tetralogy of fallot (TOF) — a condition that can cause blue-tinged skin, shortness of breath and other serious, long-term effects. She already had one heart surgery in China at just 6 months old. And while she appeared to be doing better now, they didn’t have any recent updates about her condition. This concerned Kristin and Casey.

“I think I just saw ‘heart’ and thought worst-case scenario,” Kristin says. “But the more we looked into it, the more we saw that, yes, there are horrible situations with TOF, but there are also really good outcomes from TOF.”

Yes, they faced some unknowns and uncertainty. But through prayer and research, they felt confident they could meet Claire’s needs. They also received their referral in February, and everywhere they looked, they saw Valentines hearts. They felt like Claire was meant to become their daughter.

So they flew to China that next summer, to meet Claire and bring her home.

Adopting a Child With a Heart Condition

Upon arriving home, Kristin and Casey immediately brought Claire to see a heart doctor. And just four months later, Claire had her second open heart surgery, her first in the U.S.

“If you saw her running around today,” Casey says, “you’d never know that she’s had two open heart surgeries.” Her second heart surgery was a success. And while she still has regular heart appointments and is monitored closely today, she has no symptoms and is completely healthy.

Heart conditions are one of the most common special needs among children waiting for adoptive families — especially in China. And depending on the child’s age, condition and the orphanage where they live, they sometimes receive little or no treatment.

For these children, joining a loving adoptive family also means finally receiving the lifesaving care they need.

But like the Peddicords, many families can feel daunted by such a serious special need. Kristin encourages these families to consider it, and do the research.

“Definitely don’t be taken back by those first initial things that you read,” Kristin says. “Do your research and reach out for help. I found lots of communities, and the more research I did, the way less frightening it was.”

While they researched and prepared to care for their daughter’s heart, they did the same research and preparation when it came to bonding. Because they knew that a heart surgery wasn’t all she would need once she came home.

What Every Child Needs

While in China, the Peddicords took photos as a family of three to hang in Claire’s room once home — to give her a visual of her family. Although she was  3 years old and a bit old for a baby carrier, Kristin and Casey still carried Claire close to make up for their time apart. And they mostly stayed home during their first months together — not wanting to confuse Claire with other adults in her life as they bonded as parents and child. Kristin even wrote a special blog post to her friends and family, explaining why they might be parenting Claire a little differently at first.

Their care and preparation made all the difference for their daughter.

“She bonded really well,” Kristin says. “We were really good at cocooning, I guess, where it was just us and we were the only people she’d see. I feel like she picked up on that.”

Today, Kristin and Casey can barely remember life before Claire.

“It’s so weird to think about life before her, because she’s always been a part of us,” Kristin says.

Funny. Sassy. Outgoing. Loves to learn. Loves to play outside, swim and read. These are just some of the ways Casey and Kristin describe their daughter. Just upstairs, Claire plays with her dolls and works on a craft project.

Like every other child waiting for an adoptive family, the love of a family was perhaps Claire’s greatest need. And because of her loving parents, she is thriving.

“I think at heart, no pun intended, every kid has some sort of need and probably some sort of special need — ours is probably just more tangible,” Casey says. “No matter what their special need is, at the end of the day, they’re just looking for somebody to love them.”

Megan Herriott | Copywriter

Through Holt’s Families Not Finances campaign, Holt adoption grants as high as $10,000 are now available to help waiting children with special needs join loving, permanent families.

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