In 2007, Cindy Kaplan and Mishelle Rudzinski founded the SPOON Foundation, a nonprofit organization working to improve the way orphaned, fostered and adopted children around the globe are nourished. Here, Mishelle shares her story of adopting Bakha, who — along with Cindy’s son Jadyn — inspired the creation of this pioneering non-profit.
by Mishelle Rudzinski, MA CCC-SLP and co-founder of SPOON Foundation
Cindy Kaplan and I met in 2006, while both in process to adopt our first child from Kazakhstan. Although both looking to start a family, we never thought that these adoptions would also inspire the beginning of a groundbreaking nonprofit organization.
When Cindy and her husband, Tony, brought home their son, Jadyn, he was declared to be suffering from “failure to thrive” — an imprecise medical term used when a child’s weight or weight gain is “significantly” below that of children of the same gender and age.
At 8 months old, Jadyn weighed just 11 pounds and did not have the strength to lift his head.
Cindy took Jadyn to nutritionists and feeding experts who did not have experience with adoption, and she quickly became frustrated. The standard approach for helping a malnourished infant is to feed a high-calorie formula, and continue it past the typical cut-off age of one year, if necessary. But Jadyn rejected bottle-feeding and most liquids. So, Kaplan turned to books and online adoption chat rooms and trained herself in the techniques and diet tricks that would nourish Jadyn beyond the danger zone.
My daughter, Bakha, was 5 years old when she came home. At the time, she was so severely handicapped by an undiagnosed — and fully preventable — case of rickets and anemia that the adoption agency made me sign papers stating I understood that Bakha might not live to age 18. She barely walked and was the size of a small 2-year-old.
Within days of the adoption, Bakha was diagnosed with rickets and given high doses of Vitamin D. Within weeks, she started walking and then running.
She grew eight inches in the first year home.
Although her nutritional status started to improve, she struggled mightily with adapting to her new diet of unfamiliar flavors and textures. A speech-language pathologist by training, I knew how to work with kids with feeding difficulties, but Bakha gave me a run for my money and challenged me to learn even more about the difficulties that previously under-nourished kids face.
As our kids began to heal, Cindy and I couldn’t help but think “what if,” and felt an intense responsibility to the children left behind. We sought ways to volunteer but couldn’t find any organizations working to systematically change the rampant problem of malnutrition in orphanages — in Kazakhstan or anywhere else in the world.
In 2007, a year after our families were formed through adoption, Cindy and I created SPOON Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to improve the way orphaned, fostered and adopted children around the globe are being nourished.