Before Emerson could go home to her adoptive family, she needed to have heart surgery in China. While recovering, she stayed at Holt’s donor-funded medical foster home in Beijing, where the love and care she received made such a difference — her mom can still see it, every day.
When asked, adoptive mother Rachel Pace admits she doesn’t know a lot about the Peace House in China. Her 2-year-old daughter, Emerson, stayed at Holt’s medical foster home for only a short time. But circumstances surrounding Emerson’s adoption made the journey a bit of a “whirlwind.” Rachel had to learn a lot, in not a lot of time.
“Our adoption happened so quickly,” she says. “And I didn’t feel like I was really able to learn a lot about the Peace House and the care they provide.”
Though Rachel confesses her knowledge may be limited, she is fully aware that the Peace House is a very special place. “I know it made a huge difference in Emerson’s life,” she says. “I see it every day.”
Emerson, who came home from China in January, took to the Pace family almost immediately. “I know families who have adopted whose transitions home didn’t go as well,” Rachel says. “And I am confident that the Peace House played a big role in Emerson’s smooth transition home to us, and who she is today.”
When Rachel and her husband, Derek, made the decision to adopt from China, they knew that they would need to be open to a range of special needs. “And we were,” Rachel says. “I don’t think there were many physical conditions that we weren’t open to.” Going down the special needs checklist, they marked everything from cleft lip and palate to heart conditions and missing or deformed limbs. Because they were so open and flexible, they were matched with a 14-month-old girl in just two months.
“We got the call from Beth Smith [Holt’s China services director] and she thought that Emerson would be the perfect fit for our family,” Rachel says. Beth went on to tell Rachel and Derek about Emerson’s personality and about her medical conditions, which included a corrected atrial septal defect and missing thumbs.
After their initial conversation with Beth, Rachel and Derek sent Emerson’s medical file to two physicians who specialize in international adoption. Both doctors suspected that Emerson had Holt-Oram syndrome, a disorder that affects the heart as well as the upper limbs. Feeling confident that they could handle Emerson’s condition, Rachel and Derek called Holt back, accepted the referral and prepared for their trip to China.
They thought that they might travel sometime in the spring, but their trip came much sooner than expected.
While the Paces prepared to bring Emerson home to their five-acre farm in Missouri, they learned that Emerson had spent time at Holt’s Peace House — a special medical foster home in Beijing where orphaned and abandoned children come from all over China for life-changing medical care. Funded entirely by the generosity of Holt’s donors, the Peace House cares for approximately 35 children a year. At the foster home, children receive round-the-clock care from a specially trained team of caregivers who help the children grow strong enough for surgery and to make a full recovery afterwards.
Children who stay at Peace House come from their orphanages needing treatment for everything from cleft lip and palate to, in Emerson’s case, heart conditions.
“We received video of Emerson while she was there,” Rachel says. “We were so thrilled she had been at the Peace House receiving specialized care, and not in the orphanage.”
Without Peace House, many children would go right back to their orphanage after receiving surgery. They never fully heal, and can develop horrible infections. And they may never be strong enough to go home to an adoptive family.
But after receiving successful heart surgery, Emerson recovered at the Peace House and then went to stay with a loving foster family in Beijing. Rachel says her foster family “adored Emerson.” Then, in November, three months after her surgery, Emerson traveled back to her home province and waited to meet her new family. In an unusual turn of events, however, Emerson developed a cold on route back to her orphanage, which then turned into pneumonia.
Emerson was immediately admitted to the hospital in her home province, where the doctors discovered that Emerson had yet another heart condition — atrial flutter. Holt kept the Pace family updated on Emerson’s condition, and Rachel became “more and more anxious” to get her home. After many conversations with Holt’s China team, it became clear that Emerson needed to be with her family and begin receiving care in the United States.
“Our trip to China was expedited,” Rachel says, “and we were on a plane in January, two months earlier than expected.”
When Derek and Rachel first met Emerson, she had been released from the hospital just two days prior. “She just stared at us for the longest time” Rachel says. “But by the end of the trip, all she wanted was us. Even when we went back to her care center to sign papers, she just held on tight to me.”
Rachel credits the Peace House and her daughter’s foster family for how well cared for Emerson seemed when they met her. “Our Holt guide in China went on and on about how … loved and taken care of she was [at the Peace House],” Rachel says. “And we can definitely tell. It’s made all the difference.”
Because of the generosity of Holt donors and the dedicated Peace House staff, Emerson received the vital care she needed to grow strong enough to go home with her family. She received the first of several critically needed surgeries, and experienced what it’s like to have the attentive, nurturing, one-on-one care of a foster family. But ultimately, what she needed most was an adoptive family — a loving, devoted, permanent family that could give her all of the care she needed.
Once home in the U.S., Emerson was admitted to the hospital for a procedure that would put her heart back into the correct rhythm. Today, the Paces check her heart twice a day to make sure it stays in rhythm, and she also receives physical and occupational therapy for her hand condition. “She will need another heart surgery in the future,” Rachel says, “and possible surgery on her thumbs.”
Other than the medical appointments, Rachel says that her daughter has spent the last five months getting used to life on their farm — a farm of over 100 animals!
“She was terrified of our dogs at first,” Rachel says. “Now she loves them.”
Rachel was admittedly nervous about the possibility of a rough transition home, in general, saying she researched all the ways her daughter might struggle to adjust to her new life — and how to make it easier for her. “I was hopeful, but was definitely preparing for the worst in terms of her transition,” says Rachel, who was instead delighted to see Emerson thrive in her new surroundings.
“Our social worker says it’s like she’s always been here,” she says.
Recently, Rachel found a picture that her 8-year-old daughter, Emerson’s older sister, had drawn of a smiling Emerson. “I am so happy we adopted you,” the picture said. “It took two years to get to you. And then Mom and Dad went to get you. When I saw your face, I thought you were so beautiful. I wanted to hold you right away.”
“That says it all,” Rachel beams.
Ashli Keyser | Contributing Writer