When the Horner family first saw Melia’s face on Holt’s waiting child photolisting, they were saddened to learn that this smiling little girl had major congenital heart defects. But instead of giving in to the unknkowns, the Horners decided to overcome their fears, holding on to hope and joy.
This post originally appeared on the Holt Stories blog in November 2012.
We began our second international adoption after many years of our eldest daughter asking for a little sister. We already had two rough-and-tumble boys that were best of friends, one biological and one adopted from Russia. But, our daughter desperately wished for a little sister to play dolls with and pamper, read and sing songs to. Month by month, our hearts were softening to the idea of having four children and in late 2010, we decided to grow our family one more time through international adoption.
Our first decision was choosing an agency that had a good reputation domestically and internationally. We had been introduced to Holt International through several local friends that had adopted from Korea, India, Africa and China. Holt’s roots and history proved their reliability and so we were thrilled to start the journey with Holt’s help, guidance and support.
We chose China erroneously because we thought that they only had little girls available for adoption, and we had hoped to grow our family with the addition of a daughter. Later, we would learn that there are almost equal numbers of boys and girls with minor to more major special needs available for adoption from China. Nonetheless, this decision was one of many that led us down a path to our daughter, Melia.
We learned about the special needs program early on and visited with a local international adoption doctor about all the possible minor special needs that children from China could have. Although it felt awkward to select which needs our family was open to, we knew this form was part of the process and filled it out to the best of our ability. Little did we know that processing through this list of minor special needs would begin to open up our hearts to these amazing, precious, wonderfully created children around the world and lead us to adopting a child with major congenital heart defects.
But, I’m jumping ahead… After submitting all our paperwork to Holt and getting all the documents notarized, state-sealed, authenticated and stamped with China’s approval, we were ready for a referral! We were so excited but had nothing to do but wait. Well, we don’t wait well, and so we found ourselves roaming around Holt’s website night after night. One Friday evening we happened upon the waiting child photolisting.
That night we saw the picture of our happy, smiling daughter for the first time.
We read her profile and anxiously waited all weekend to request to view her profile more completely from Holt’s waiting child program director.*
At first, the information we obtained seemed like something our family could manage. Melia has a congenital heart defect known as Congenitally Corrected Transposition of the Great Arteries with Dextrocardia, a VSD and Situs Inversus. Basically, that means that all her parts are flip-flopped on the inside, but her body had corrected the flip-flop and was functioning just fine without any previous surgeries or interventions. We thought, great! She is doing fine and although it seems like lots of heart anomalies are present, all the wrongs made a right!
So we began to gather more information to ascertain whether or not our initial interpretation of her condition was accurate. We spoke with a heart consultant offered to us by Holt, a local international adoption doctor, an adult cardiologist, a local pediatric cardiologist and our social worker.
We discovered that although Melia’s heart was functioning fine right now, the long-term prognosis was poor without surgical intervention. Her heart was compensating well now, but over time, right-sided heart failure was almost inevitable. The problem was that the best corrective intervention that modern medicine has come up with for this rare condition has only been around since the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Therefore, long-term outcomes are only theoretical.
Well, that news burst our bubble. We were brought to tears considering the idea of parenting a child and then potentially watching her heart fail at a young age. We were also saddened at the thought of this little girl fighting for her life alone in an orphanage without a family to walk alongside her. After much prayer, we received indescribable peace when we made the decision to move forward with the adoption of this precious little one from China.
We realized that no one can predict the future, and there was no need to be living in fear about all the possible problems or pain that the future may hold.
Fast-forward to January 2012 when our family of five traveled with two grandparents to China to welcome Melia into our family! What an amazing day it was. We waited in a small room and, after an hour, saw a minivan pull up outside our doorway. Two women carried a bundled beauty into the room. We greeted Melia with smiles, tears, hugs and toys and she greeted us with a face frozen in curiosity. It wasn’t even 30 minutes later that she was laughing with us and drinking a bottle in her mommy’s arms.
Melia was very easygoing and our time with her in China was delightful. At first, I questioned everything related to activity and diet and wondered if it had to do with her heart. Is she sweating too much? Is she sleeping too much? Is she eating enough? Are her lips turning blue when she runs? But, once again, I had to choose to let go of fear and embrace the moments we were being given with our newest, 21-month-old daughter.
Once home, we saw her heart doctor within the first three weeks. The process of confirming her diagnosis and determining our course of action was set in motion. It wasn’t long before surgery was being proposed for Melia. Her condition was discussed with over nine local physicians and surgeons and was also presented to three different experts from around the country. The conclusion was that her best hope at a long and lasting future with a functioning heart was to intervene now with an open heart surgery to prepare her heart for a bigger, corrective surgery called a Double Switch around the age of 4 or 5.
Once again, we had to trust God and abandon fear as we walked our little girl into heart surgery May 29, 2012 – only 4 months after her arrival in America. We were able to get her surgery done locally and although the moments immediately following surgery were a little precarious, our amazing daughter ended up running out of the hospital with a smile and a little Ibuprofen as her only medication only four days later.
The rest of her summer has been spent doing all the usual things two-year-olds do. We play in the water, sing and dance. She loves to swing at the park and we are even embarking on potty training. Day-to-day life is usual with our youngest, but our thankfulness for usual moments and typical days is much greater than it has ever been before. We have been forever changed because God brought this little one into our hearts and lives. Although her physical heart has presented challenges and may continue to do so, the love and joy that pours out of her spirit heart has blessed our family in more ways than we can count.
Just this week we had a follow up evaluation with her cardiologist and she is doing fantastic! He doesn’t need to see her for six months!
Written by Ryan and Katie Horner
* Many children with minor to moderate heart conditions are able to be quickly matched with families who are already in the adoption process – i.e., already working on their homestudy and dossier. Children with more involved conditions, such as Melia’s, typically find families through the Holt photolisting. When families fill out Holt’s medical conditions checklist, they can identify whether they are open to minor, moderate to more major needs. This helps our social workers identify the right family for each child. With a need such as a heart issue, we typically consider the condition “minor” if it has already corrected or resolved on its own; “moderate” if it is correctable upon coming home or manageable with continual follow-up; and “major” if the condition requires long-term treatments or surgeries.
Are you considering adopting a child with special needs? Through the Families Not Finances campaign, Holt is offering grants of up to $10,000 for specific children with special needs on our photolisting. Learn more about Families Not Finances here.