UPDATE: As of November 2015, Eric has a family! Congratulations Eric!!
Eric is a 10-year-old in a wheelchair. But his biggest obstacle in life is not the wheelchair or the special needs that cause him to depend on it. Eric needs and deserves a loving family. Below, four Holt advocates share about this special boy who they met at an orphanage in northern China earlier this year. For Holt’s director of program and foundation relations, this was her second visit with Eric in four years. When she recognized him, she was devastated to find he was still there… still waiting for a family.
I am mindful of my office clock ticking softly behind me as I write to you this morning about Eric*. On most days, the clock’s steady ticking is a hypnotic sound in the background – only intermittently discernable as I work. Today, however, the ticking seems jarring — as if sounding an alarm that time is irretrievably passing by.
I need my next minutes with you to not pass by without moving you to pause, reflect and act.
And here is the reason: a terrific boy is losing his dreams of growing up in a family. He can never get his childhood back, and he has already lost 10 years in an institution. Eric’s window of time is running out.
This past summer, I led a small focus team of Holt supporters and adoptive families to see Holt’s services for children in northeastern China. For everyone on the trip, each day seemed more amazing than the last. As our journey neared the end, we visited an orphanage in Jilin province home to about 200 children, newborn to 18 years old. Another 70 children from the orphanage now live in foster families in the community.
Of all the children in care — whether at the orphanage or in foster care — 90% have special needs.
Nearing the end of our tour of the orphanage, our local Holt China staff member, Zou Rong, asked if our team would take the time to visit with three children who have been waiting to be adopted for some time. “Just take a bit of time to get to know them,” she said. In unison we said “yes!” and followed her into the playroom —warm sunlight spilling in from the wall of windows. We quickly tossed our bags into a pile in a corner of the room so we could hug and play with the children.
To my amazement, I immediately recognized one of the children — a young boy in a wheelchair.
I have only traveled to the region one time before — in October 2010. Memories flooded my mind as I walked over to him and squatted down to be at his eye level. I could clearly remember how warmed he was when a Holt adoptive mom, Tina Gsedl, gave him special attention during our visit four years ago. When our eyes now locked again, a magical moment of recognition suddenly lit up Eric’s face. He remembered me! And so began my delightful reunion with him.
Over the span of two hours, I watched his kind personality play out. And I was ecstatic to learn how bright he is! Eric attends public school in the community outside the orphanage, which is a major win for him. I learned from our staff that Eric is in the 90th percentile in his studies at school and around 70th percentile in English! He is athletic, engaging and sharp at games. He is friendly with and caring of other children. And he is very interested in interacting with adults.
I was also so impressed with the great progress Eric has made through daily physical therapy at the orphanage. He has cerebral palsy, which affects his legs, and he uses his wheelchair to be active and independent. Eric is so determined to take care of himself and his personal needs. At one point during our conversation, he quietly moved away from me in his chair to a nearby doorway. I watched him lift himself up and out of his wheelchair and use the doorway and walls to steady himself as he made his way into the room, closing the door behind him. A few minutes later, he emerged and settled back into his chair to return to our group.
He flashed me an easy smile as I took a couple dozen photos and some video of him to bring back to our adoption services staff in Eugene, Oregon. As my time with Eric came to an end, I leaned in to ask him if he had any questions for me. He thought for a minute and then looked up and said, “What’s it like in America?”
During our visit, other members of our team came over to meet him — to ask him questions and toss a basketball back and forth with him. He engaged with everyone. We kept saying to each other, “Wouldn’t he just excel in a family?”
Despite the physical challenges with his legs, Eric continues to move forward in his physical, mental, emotional and social development. His phenomenal progress is in no small part due to his ability to attend school and socialize outside of the orphanage. This particular orphanage is also very advanced in the care of children with special needs, offering a variety of physical, vocational and play therapy equipment donated by a local entrepreneur group and company. The therapy and nurturing care Eric receives at the orphanage has helped him develop into a strong, capable and healthy boy. Even so, an orphanage will never offer what a family can…
Dozens of questions continue to spin in my head about the children we met, but especially about Eric. Why is he still in the orphanage? How many children has he watched leave with families over these past four years while he stayed behind? What could we personally do to advocate for him?
With hope and faith that a family reading about Eric today will give Holt a call and inquire more about him, I want to share the insights from three others who have spent time with Eric. — Rose McBride, Holt director of program and foundation relations
October 2010 — “Bright eyes and an engaging smile – my first impressions of a young boy as he rolled his wheelchair over to meet me in October 2010. Immediately, I was reminded of my own son who also is challenged with orthopedic issues. We broke the ice and the language barrier over Tootsie Roll Pops. I shared pictures of my son’s braces. Eric bravely showed me his feet and legs. I remember him as a courageous young soul, pulling himself up to stand, smiling excitedly and proudly as our translator explained how he was working hard on his core muscle strength. They had started him on the parallel bars as a support to strengthen his lower body. He loved it. He was motivated and happy. Even at his young age, he displayed a good sense of humor and a sharp mind, laughing when I tickled his toes and feet. The impression of his spirit and positive attitude has stuck with me over the years.
Back then, the orphanage did not know the “why” of Eric’s condition. As a result of our visit, Holt was able to arrange further testing and a medical evaluation for Eric. He is now waiting for that special forever family who will support not just his physical development, but love him for everything he is today and what he can become. He just needs a chance to rise to his full potential.” — Kristina Gsedl, Holt adoptive mom to three children from China
October 2013 —“I met Eric one year ago this month in China. Being the mother of two adopted daughters in wheelchairs, my heart made an instant connection with him. When I met Eric, he was preparing for his ride to a school outside the orphanage. He was identified as a student with good academic skills and was being provided with a commensurate education that will assist in the accomplishment of his educational potential. His other potential lies in a nurturing family that will help him achieve lifelong happiness in whatever future dreams he’ll pursue. Our daughters came home from China and Thailand in wheelchairs and with tremendous potential. Now they both lead successful, independent lives that even include driving cars. Sometimes, wheelchairs simply represent a physical inconvenience.” — Julie Banta, Holt board member and adoptive mom
July 2014 — “Our experience with Eric was brief. During the summer, we had an opportunity to visit the orphanage where Eric receives treatment. What struck me about this boy was his intelligence and his willingness to engage even though we didn’t speak the same language. I saw in Eric a boy who just needed opportunities. Opportunity to be loved and opportunity to fix some of his physical ailments that were holding him back. Given these opportunities, I saw nothing but potential in this boy who wanted so much more out of life than where he was. You can just tell by the way he played catch, the way he watched you and the way he warmed up and smiled when you smiled. This boy is very smart. I was touched by my meeting with Eric. I am so proud of the work that Holt does to help these children, but I left unsatisfied that Eric still needs a home and a family to call his own. Who will unlock the potential of this special boy who needs a family to call his own?” — Skip Hanson, Holt board member and adoptive father