Born with a condition that progressively stole his eyesight, Levi urgently needed advanced medical care to save what was left of his vision. But first, he needed to come home.
Before Melissa Combs traveled to bring her son Levi home, endless questions of concern raced through her mind: “Does he have other developmental delays? Is that just because of his condition? What if he’s completely blind? What if he loses the rest of his sight before we get there?”
When Melissa learned that Levi had congenital glaucoma, a progressive condition in which fluid buildup in the eye causes permanent vision impairment, she knew that each passing day that he was still in orphanage care in China posed a greater threat to his eyesight.
In July 2016, when Melissa and her oldest daughter, Alicia, traveled to China to bring Levi home, these feelings of concern remained.
“When we first met him, he was super quiet and withdrawn within himself,” Melissa says. “He wasn’t responding at all. He would only look at one thing on the table.”
The care center staff in China cared for him as best they could, but without the resources to treat his condition, it had only worsened over time. “The first thing we noticed about him is that his left eye was pretty bad,” Melissa says. “It was so swollen — bulging.”
But amid the concern she felt from seeing Levi in this condition, Melissa also felt relief — relief that Levi would very soon receive the medical care that he needed.
A week after arriving home in Wylie, Texas, Levi had his first doctor’s appointment. Melissa says, “The doctor took one look at him and said, ‘He’s going to surgery next week.'”
Today, just six months since coming home, Levi has had a total of five eye surgeries. While his right eye has just light and dark sensitivity, doctors are still fighting to save and maintain as much vision as possible in his left eye, which currently has a 20-degree window of vision.
Levi might not have that 20-degree window if the Combs family had passed by his photolisting profile — daunted by his special needs. And that window would have closed further, and maybe even shut forever, if they had not done everything in their power to bring him home as soon as possible.
“It was actually very daunting for us,” Melissa says of his progressive eye condition. “But [my husband and I] just both really felt like [Levi] was supposed to be with our family — so we took a leap of faith.”
While the Combs were in the adoption process for Levi, each step forward was a major victory as any bit of help that sped up the process would directly impact their son’s health. One major step forward occurred when they received a grant from Holt’s Special Needs Adoption Fund (SNAF).
Designed to ensure that finances never stand between a loving family and a child who truly needs one, SNAF grants are awarded to families who are in process of adopting children with special medical or developmental needs, older children or sibling groups — children whose unique needs make it more challenging to find the right families for them. Financial help from a SNAF grant can greatly speed up the process — coming at just the critical time when parents need to buy their plane tickets or finalize their legal paperwork so their child can come home.
And often, as in Levi’s case, SNAF grants can help meet costs to bring home children in need of urgent medical attention in the U.S.
Before adopting Levi, the Combs welcomed home another son, David, also from China, also a boy with special needs. David has a genetic condition that required multiple surgeries and long hospital stays — both things that made financial assistance necessary as they pursued a second adoption.
“With Levi, when we applied for the grant, we were coming off of [David’s] major surgeries,” Melissa says. “So we really did need the assistance.”
Although wholeheartedly prepared to care for another child with special needs and confident in their calling to make Levi a part of their family, Melissa remembers clearly how she and her husband, Jay, looked at the adoption costs and said to themselves, “Wow, how are we going to do that?”
This question referred not only to the upfront adoption fees, but also to the cost of treatment Levi would need for his congenital glaucoma once home in Texas.
“We knew coming home [with Levi], we would have the medical bills again, and surgery again,” Melissa says.
So as soon as they sent their dossier to China, they applied for a SNAF grant. “We just had to take a leap of faith,” Melissa says. “Every little bit helps and it was a blessing to us to receive [a SNAF grant] and to be able to have some of the cost of the adoption saved for procedures when he got home.”
For 23 years, the SNAF grant has been a blessing to families adopting children with special needs — a response to their leap of faith.
In 2016 alone, Holt awarded over $130,000 in grants from the Special Needs Adoption Fund — enabling 38 children to come home to loving, permanent families. But as many more children wait to join families — children for whom the right family may come along just once in a lifetime — the need to replenish the fund remains urgent. It can make all the difference for a waiting child and a family hoping to adopt.
“A lot of these kids have conditions that are treatable, and it’s a tragedy that there aren’t enough families who can afford to go out and adopt,” Melissa says.
In the past three years, more than 185 Holt families and children have benefited from a SNAF grant. The long-lasting impact of SNAF grants and the generosity of SNAF donors is not lost on them.
“Their generosity is really something that is helping to provide these children with the love and care they need to be healthy and happy in their adult lives,” Melissa says.
Although Levi is considered legally blind with correction, the critical care he receives now — including tools and specialists who work with him to overcome the challenges of limited vision — is something he wouldn’t have received had he stayed in China.
As part of his pre-braille training, Melissa works with him daily, using sensory books to identify different textures. Levi also works with a mobility specialist who is teaching him to use a cane, ensuring that he can safely navigate at home, at school and wherever else he goes.
Melissa and Jay are hopeful that Levi will maintain as much eyesight as possible, but they are also actively giving him the tools he needs for an empowered and independent future.
And the impact of their loving care is noticeable in more ways than one.
“He’s more confident in his walking now,” Melissa says. “He’s not shuffling anymore.” While Levi’s personality is still quiet, he’s no longer the withdrawn, unsure child who they first met in China. “He loves to laugh and giggle,” she continues. “It makes you want to laugh too because he’s just so sweet.”
Through it all, Levi is an absolute joy to the Combs family, enjoying life like almost any other 3-year-old. “He loves anything outside,” Melissa says. “And those bouncy balls with the handle on it? It took him a while to figure it out, but now he’s crazy on it!”
Coming home to his family has not only given Levi the opportunity to work through his vision impairments and reach his fullest potential, but it’s given him the chance to be part of a family that absolutely adores him.
In her sincere letter of thanks to SNAF donors, Melissa penned the following:
“As I am writing this letter, I can hear [Levi’s] infectious giggles as he plays with his older brother in the next room. He has brought much joy to our family and we are honored to be able to call him our son.”
Megan Herriott | Digital Marketing Specialist