Born in China with a cleft lip and palate, baby Rebekah was so malnourished that she could have died in her orphanage. But then she received a Gift of Hope that saved her life.
She was just a week old, and tiny. The caregivers at the orphanage looked into her big, bright eyes and gave her the name “Xiu.” Beautiful.
When baby Xiu came into care, she also had a deep cleft in her lip that made it hard for her to suck on a bottle. She barely ate, and barely grew. When she left the orphanage, at 2 and a half months old, she weighed just six pounds.
“She was literally starving to death,” her mom, Jennifer Parker, says today — nearly 16 months later. Xiu is now home with her family, and her name is now Rebekah. A chubby 18-month-old, she walks and runs and dances whenever she hears music.
But Jennifer knows exactly what would have happened if Rebekah had not left the orphanage.
“Without a doubt, she would have starved to death if she had not gone to Peace House,” she says. “No 2-month-old baby should weigh six pounds.”
This interim place between the orphanage and joining a family — the Peace House — is a special medical foster home in Beijing where children like Rebekah go to receive nurturing, one-on-one care before and after surgery. Through the generous gifts of Holt sponsors and donors, Rebekah stayed at Peace House for eight months. Fed by round-the-clock caregivers who know how to feed children with cleft lip and palate, Rebekah gained weight, and gradually grew strong enough for her first cleft lip surgery.
When she reached a little over 14 pounds, Rebekah finally had her first surgery. This made a dramatic difference. She could eat much easier, and for the first time, she began to form sounds.
For the next several months, Rebekah recovered at Peace House. During that time, Jennifer and her husband, Blake, learned about a little girl in China with a cleft lip and big, bright, beautiful eyes. “When I heard little Rebekah’s story, when I heard about her medical need, and when I saw her photo, I knew,” her mom says.
After a brief stay in foster care, Rebekah traveled home with her family last May.
“Rebekah has learned to sign several works; she can identify 14 different body parts; she can put together puzzles designed for 2-year-olds, and she absolutely loves to look at books. We really think Rebekah’s time at Peace House, and later in foster care, helped her catch up quickly upon coming home,” Jennifer says. “That time took her out of survival mode, and gave her brain a chance to focus on other things.”
Relieved that Rebekah will likely have no lasting effects from her early malnutrition, Jennifer also doesn’t blame the orphanage caregivers who failed to give Rebekah the nutrition she needed in her first two months. She believes they really tried, but simply had too many children to feed and lacked the training to properly feed a baby with a cleft lip and palate.
“I am so thankful that they allowed her the opportunity to go to Peace House and get the medical attention she so desperately needed,” Jennifer says.
But Jennifer does not downplay how desperately Rebekah needed that medical attention.
“Cleft surgery isn’t cosmetic,” she says. “For many of these children, it is the difference between being able to get enough nourishment to sustain life, versus not. Children die without these surgeries.”