As a baby, sick from the effects of polio, Derek Parker was found at the gates of Holt’s Ilsan Center in Korea. The whole trajectory of his life changed when Molly Holt knelt down, picked him up and brought him inside…
“There’s a child at the gate — come look.”
This is the beginning to all that Derek Parker knows about his life.
A child at the gate was not uncommon at Holt’s Ilsan Center in Korea in the 1970s. Both the stigma of unwed motherhood and the poverty and instability remaining from the Korean War left many parents unable to care for their children. Many felt like they had no choice but to leave their child in a place where they knew he or she would be cared for.
But when Molly Holt heard this news and rushed to the gate, something stuck out to her about Derek — he was sick. So sick, in fact, that the woman who alerted Molly about him said with a somber practicality that he likely wouldn’t survive much longer.
“However, Molly said that there was something there that she had saw [in me],” Derek recalls from his meeting with Molly earlier this year, as he sits in the Holt office in Oregon to share his story with us. “She really loved children. So she took me in and that’s how I came to Holt.”
The moment that Molly knelt down, carefully picked him up and brought him inside, the trajectory of Derek’s life changed forever.
“When I came to Ilsan,” says Derek, “I had some pretty severe disabilities — the effects of polio.” But Molly and the other staff at Ilsan committed to Derek and committed to making him as healthy as possible.
While in care at Ilsan, Derek had a surgery on his leg and extensive rehabilitation and therapy. Just a couple years later, Derek could not only sit and keep his head up, but he stood and even took some steps with the help of leg braces.
Before long, it was time to find him an adoptive family. He was matched with a family in Portland, OR and officially became a Parker at the age of 3 and a half.
The transformation he experienced at Ilsan was nothing short of incredible.
“By the time I left Ilsan, they really helped me to work through a lot,” Derek says. “When I first got there I wasn’t really able to hold myself up, but when I left, I was able to.”
Around the world, children with special needs living in institutions remain the most vulnerable. The best place for every child to be is in a loving, permanent family, but for children with special or medical needs, this becomes more complicated. Their poor health may stand in the way of them being eligible for adoption, and a too high child-to-caregiver ratio and lack of medical care, therapies and resources in some care facilities lessen the chance of their health ever improving.
That’s why we have the Molly Holt Fund, named after the woman who so profoundly changed Derek’s life. Through this fund, our generous and compassionate donors provide the very best to children with special needs who are living in care facilities and with their families around the world.
Today, Derek uses a wheelchair for mobility, but mostly for longer distances.
“I can put my wheelchair in my car and then walk to the driver’s side,” he says. “You know, I have full function and am able to walk.”
He lives in San Diego where he works as a successful businessman in the finance industry — having obtained his MBA and owned a couple different businesses in his career. Additionally, he is active in a local nonprofit that promotes full independence and access for people with disabilities.
He lives with his family in a two-story home where he uses stairs, cares for his needs independently, and plays and keeps up with his three active children. Both in parenting and in overcoming the obstacles that remain from having childhood polio, Derek says that the perseverance, strength and idea of doing things “in a different way” are rooted in his early-life experiences at Holt.
“All the things in everyday life I’m able to do is because of the rehabilitation,” he says. “If it wasn’t for the surgeries and rehabilitation through Holt while I was there, I could not live as I do today.”
Last fall, Derek traveled to Korea where he met Molly Holt and toured the Ilsan Center — a place that was unfamiliar to him as an adult, but held profound significance for his life.
“While I was there at Holt Ilsan, it was very easy to see what it could have been like for me when I was there,” Derek says.
From his own experience and from meeting residents at Ilsan, Derek saw how even if people have the same special need — whether it be cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or polio — each individual is different.
“Rehabilitation takes a one-on-one approach,” Derek says. “[Good caregivers] individually measure what each person’s capabilities are and help them so that they can function — even if it’s a little bit different.”
Today, whether providing a lifesaving heart surgery for a child in China, hearing aids and speech therapies to a child in Vietnam, or a specialized wheelchair to a child at Holt’s Ilsan Center in Korea, the Molly Holt Fund cares for children who are in the same situation that Derek was over 40 years ago. It gives them the chance to get well and the chance to grow up in the loving care of a family.
“I am an example of being able to get this,” Derek says about the care he received as a child. “I was able to be adopted. And because of that, able to live.”
Megan Herriott | Staff Writer