Here are a few pictures of how she looked today. Thanks to our merciful Lord for giving her 11 years of life, the last three of which were with us!
Today our quiet girl turned 11 without much fanfare. Quiet that is, unless you try to touch her forehead or make her cold, then she finds her voice.
Here are a few pictures of how she looked today. Thanks to our merciful Lord for giving her 11 years of life, the last three of which were with us!
What's a birthday without ice cream?? Here is Heather giving her a taste of some chocolate ice cream on her tongue. I think she liked it!
Here she is with the rest of us at our most recent family picture this fall.
I have been collecting photos for a "day in the life" post for Katia, planning this post and life (hyperdrive) happening meanwhile and this blog has been silent. I want to learn to carry my phone/camera, snatch little moments that give you a glimpse into our world with Katia to keep you up to date. So there's a LOT to catch up on and Katia is doing very well. Thank you for caring and coming on the journey with us.
Come With Me: Walking Through the Memories of a Ukrainian Orphanage
Come with me through my memories. Come in the taxi Nikoli drives. Hold on for your life, because he really hits the gas…especially if there’s a good song on the radio. The brown water cascades around us as the wheels hit the huge puddles filling the rutted March road. The short ride takes us through garbage-strewn streets. Stray dogs scamper away at the sight of the car. We stop next to a drab, unsuspicious building. You would never think that there were children inside. Soon we will walk through the muck to a stair rail with peeling green paint. Mount the few steps to the tall wooden door. It’s hard and firm. It locks the world out and Yuri and Viktor in.
If you’re lucky, someone will open it with a pasted-on smile. But, then again, you’re lucky if they just let you in.
Come with me down the short hallway. Hang your coat in the tiny room where the files are kept that I only saw once. The files that told me I could find families for Yuri and Viktor.
Now follow me into the room with the old slanting floor and the couches with the red coverings. I spent countless hours here. On the right there is a white door. Behind that door are two boys who have relatives that still hold rights and left their kin in this awful place; Davit with empty, hopeless eyes and Meroslav with his angel smile. Vanya used to be there. But he came home to America to be loved. In the corner there is crib with a fifteen pound, six-year-old girl with huge blue eyes. She stares off into space. She’s blind. Here, hold her hand, my friend. Her fingers are all clenched in a fist. She cannot uncurl her own hand. She cannot move at all. Yes, in this place you meet weakness face-to-face, hand-to-hand, tears-to-tears. Yet you meet amazing strength, too—children who survive because of sheer will.
Now we’ll enter the other room across the hall. See that boy in the tiny round playpen? His beautiful eyes scrunch all up when he’s happy. His name is Yuri. He really craves any kind of love and attention. If you pick him, up he won’t let you put him back down. Look at the slide made of foam blocks over there. The kids aren’t ever allowed to play on it, unless visitors are here; it’s all just for show. But Yuri likes when you help him slide down it. When he climbs to the top by himself and you say, “You’re the king of the castle, Yuri!” he looks proud and his eyes shine. He can’t understand my English, but he can understand the praise in my voice. Yuri is the child that I loved the most here.
Come, let’s get the other boy out of the cribs. His name is Viktor. Sometimes he will throw himself against his crib and cry and cry, begging for someone to come. No one does. Each day Viktor distances himself from the uncaring world a little more. I wonder how he would be if a family came and brought him home. Feel his ankles. I know he has stockings on and socks upon socks over them, but don’t his ankles feel stiff? Unbendable? Yes, I know, it’s hard to tell through the layers of clothing. Sometimes the kids have six shirts on.
Here, do you want to hold Viktor? Careful—he likes to pull hair. Hard! He’s really strong for his size. He’s a bit rough—no one has taught him how to receive affection properly. Attention overwhelms him a bit. How would you feel if you were a little boy that was being gently held for the first time in years? Tell him the words he never hears—tell him he’s a beautiful child. Tell him you love him.
I’m being called back to reality. I’m not at the orphanage holding and loving these kids. I’m home in Pennsylvania sitting in a rocking chair writing this
article. Two days ago, I received an email that said Yuri is going to be sent to a mental institution. These places usually have horrible statistics. Many of the children do not survive. The orphanage asked if a family had been found for Yuri so they could try to keep him at the orphanage a little longer. There is no family.
A man just contacted me saying that if a family was found for Viktor he would donate a few thousand dollars towards the boy’s adoption. I have no family for him, either.
They wait. And wait. I came back from Ukraine in 2011.
Now it’s 2013.
They remain in cribs, no longer five, but almost seven.
I was able to find a family for the fifteen-pound-six year old girl that I met in Ukraine. Her name is Katia. Three and a half months after coming the US, she doubled her weight. Her blind eyes are slowly gaining sight. She has come so far from the terrible condition she was in.
Yuri and Viktor need homes, too. They need parents who can make a lifelong commitment of caring for children with special needs. That commitment is not easy. If you adopt a child like Yuri or Viktor, “learning delayed” will suddenly no longer mean your stubborn nine-year-old who will not read. No, it will mean a nine-year-old who is taking first steps and forming first words. Adopting a child with special needs is not easy. Your nest will never be empty. You will have a teenager who isn’t embarrassed to hold Mom’s hand. When your hair is gray, you may still cuddle a grown man with a mind like a child. Walks will be slower. Beauty will be more recognized. Praise will be given for small things. Laughter will happen often, but tears will be there, too. Healing will come for Yuri and Viktor if they are adopted. They will no longer be starving little boys. Their minds will brighten as they experience the world beyond bars. But bringing a child home to America isn’t a “magic pill”. The affects of disability and neglect will never leave these two boys. They need a family that will accept them for who they are; who will love them for who they are. Perhaps when you read this you know that your family does not have the ability to care for children with such severe needs. That’s okay. You CAN pass their story on, though, because, somewhere, there IS a person who will say, “Yes, I can do this.” That’s what kept me going when I was finding a family for Katia. Every time that I thought that no one would adopt a child with such disabilities I would tell myself, “No! It’s not impossible. I just have to keep spreading the word; someone will love her. ” And someone does love her. The Russells.
Time is almost out for Yuri. He’s being transferred to the institution. If we can get a family for him fast enough, there is a chance they will keep him at the orphanage.
But I have tried to get him a home. And I have failed.
Now it’s your turn to try, because I can’t do it alone.
Pass it on: Time is out and two little boys still need hope and a home.
How to help:
Advocate! Blog, make a post on Facebook, contact your friends or send an email out to everyone on your contact list.
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a pledge of an amount that you would be willing to donate towards their adoptions if Yuri or Viktor received a family. (Every dollar counts to adoptive parents who are struggling to bring a child home.)
Pray for these two children. They suffer so much every day.
Please don’t forget Yuri and Viktor.
--McKennaugh, age 17
Quick Update...since McKennaugh sent this to me, a family has come forward that is starting to proceed for Yuri...no-one moving ahead for Viktor at this time. Please contact me here if you want more information about Viktor or McKennaugh at her email above or at the Facebook Page, Hope for Levina.
CASTS for Katia!!!
Finally, after what seems like such a long time, we are moved into a space of our own. It is a 2 story townhouse with a very clean basement with a painted concrete floor, perfect for energetic boys to roller skate on during cold winter days. There is no yard but a patio so this basement is a blessing.
It has all the space we need for our family and Katia's equipment. We have signed a short term lease still hoping for something more suited to active boys, our homesteading, chicken raising eldest child and Katia's immobility. Right now we carry her up and downstairs each day and at 30 pounds (yes, I did say that!), it is do-able. But as she grows, that will become more of a challenge.
Okay, so about the smiling that lured you into this post! It really is the best part.
A couple of months ago, (time really runs away with her care and being homeless and then moving...sorry) our eldest daughter saw Katia smiling in her sleep. It was such a precious sight! We began to see it with greater frequency and rejoiced over what that might mean to our little silent one. Katia grimaces when stretching and can moan a little mad sound if we hurt her but mostly stares off somewhere without expression though she looks peaceful.
Since her tube was removed from her nose, she is vocalizing a happy, open mouthed sound that doesn't require word formation. She does this daily now and with greater frequency through the day.
It's wonderful to keep experiencing new things from her, expressing a little bit of what she is feeling.
So you can imagine my delight when, looking past me the other day, she smiled a huge smile and made her cooing sound very loudly! What a reward and blessing!
And she did it a few times in a row.
We don't know what she was thinking or seeing.
We have thought that she sees us, looking right into our eyes on occasion and she tracks my face and her lit up musical gloworm occasionally, but her neurologist was evaluating her last week and thinks she is tracking sound not visually. He tested her eyes with light and the reaction of the eye to light is normal but the brain doesn't see what we do says he. She doesn't have the primitive response to blink when he acts like he will poke her in the eye with his finger. We don't know for sure of course so I am experimenting.
But the crowning glory of the smiles came last night as I turned Katia to settle her for first shift of the night. I scooped her body to turn her but got to my knees by her crib and was holding her, letting the crib assist. My routine for bed has been to say goodnight in Russian, then in English and then to say "I love you, Daddy loves you, B loves you, E loves you, C loves you and Jesus loves you most of all!" I was pulling her face close with her in the crook of my arms and kissing her where jaw meets neck as I said each of these. As I looked at her face in between each kiss and name, she had the hugest smile on and kept smiling for each person named and kiss! I don't know if she is ticklish there or why she smiled so big but I wanted to burst it made me so happy!
So I went through the list again! She didn't disappoint, smiling as broadly as ever.
What amazing sweetness! I am grateful to realize that one day I will be able to look right into those seeing eyes and smile and she won't ever be burdened again with brokenness and we will adore Jesus who loves us most of all!
Just a quick update that Katia has recovered quickly and with a few minor issues like a morphine rash and thrush in her mouth but no major problems, clear lungs, no infection, breathed on her own right away:). We are so thankful for the Lord's care and protection and grateful for your prayers.
I love rubbing noses with her now. No tape or tube in the way, and teaching her the English word "nose".
We are at my niece's quietly convalescing, discharged from the hospital last night.
While very thankful for the tube that has fed Katia for the last 8 years, we are thankful that it has been replaced by a tube directly into the stomach. We are praying that this will alleviate many of her other problems.
Katia began to have a few seizures in the night. She had a fever, a reaction to the morphine, and was extremely dry. After her NG tube was removed, she began having more and more seizures until they were almost without stopping again.
After receiving various treatments and rescue medication for the seizures, she slept and is sleeping now. Her surgeon explained that vagus nerves run along the esophagus and these were very messed with yesterday and can cause the autonomic problems that she had today. It could also be from being overwhelmed by the stress of surgery, pain and medications. But he is pleased by her progress and is optomistic for her continued progress.
She has managed to keep all of the staff on their toes today as well as her parents who are grateful to be at this place.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord , “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV)
When our time came, we met our wonderful surgeon, anesthesiologist residents and some great nurses. Just before they wheeled her down the hall away from us, as a family we put our hands on her and prayed that God would care for her through the hands I these doctors. The surgery took approx 2 hours, and according to Dr Klein was straightforward and didn't expect any complications (answer to prayer!). There was a possibility that she would be transferred to ICU for recovery if they had to intubate her, but the decision was overturned and she went to a regular room where she slept with mom. Yay!
Katia, a glimpse...
In just about 8 hours, Katia will be undergoing surgery for the placement of a g tube into her stomach for feeding and the removal of the ng tube that has been her feeding method through her nose and down her throat for 8 years. She is sleeping peacefully beside me on her little mattress as I write this. When I changed her tube tonight, I realized that this is a huge milestone in her life. This tube has harbored bacteria and allowed infections of ears, sinus and even pneumonia's. It has maybe contributed to the severity of her reflux which causes her to breathe in little bits of stomach acid or food.
Like an onion, Katia's issues will be addressed layer by layer.
When we first came home, Katia's seizures were the main problem but many other of her needs began to be explored and will be addressed in another few months. But her second big issue was her malnutrition and feeding. Her seizures are fairly well controlled now and she is no longer malnourished! Yay...she has put on 12 pounds since we were in the Ukraine.
With seizures controlled, with clear lungs and with food and fat reserves, Katia can have the g tube surgery along with the wrapping of the stomach around the esophagus to prevent reflux.
But of course, I can't explain it to her and properly prepare her for what will happen tomorrow and the pain she will wake up feeling. Our dear Russian speaking friend told her all about it in Russian, we just don't know what she understands of any language.
Please pray for her, that she will be comforted and protected by God and that the surgery will be very successful. Pray for the needs of all of our children as they will be putting in some long days at the hospital. Thanking you in advance for your willing prayers with us for her.
Next layer, joints!
July 25, 2012
Nov 30, 2012
4 months later
Being loved on
What loved looks like.
I know we disappeared after that last post and left you wondering all about Katia and our lives home. I'm sorry that we didn't just send up a flare and say "hold on, we will be back".
We arrived from the airport to the strong smell of mold blowing throughout the house. My heart sunk.
We had experienced some mold above healthy levels the year before but there had been remediation and though we knew it was in the HVAC ducts by smelling when the heat came one, we thought that cleaning the ducts would solve this problem. Instead we were smelling it being blown around the house. We had children and adults developing health problems almost immediately and persisting. We turned the heat off till something could be done.
Kataryna meanwhile, was admitted into the hospital with dehydration and malnutrition along with her uncontrolled seizures. We are thanking God for a pediatrician who champions and really cares about her.
As I stayed in the hospital, my symptoms of mold exposure would go away. When I was home, they would return. Once the level of reaction became severe, we knew that we couldn't stay.
We were very graciously taken in by friends who have totally disrupted their daily lives in the process and have had us in their hearts and home for over 2 months. During that time, we had K in the hospital, had our house tested (the counts were very unhealthy especially in the room that Gord was working every day). We needed to move but not just move, we had to clean all that was possible, wiping down everything and packing all that we could safely salvage into a POD and move it into storage. But we also had to find a place for Gord's lab to move and clean and move that, then set up again. During all of the moving, Katia couldn't be at the house with the mold, yet I had to be there to move and she couldn't be far so that I could attend to her medical needs as she requires regular suctioning of her airways and monitoring. We were so blessed by our growth group and others at the church plus family who lovingly helped us clean, pack and move and hosted Katia with our eldest daughter or our friend from Chicago who came to help
This was the all consuming activity along with adjusting to Katia's schedule and care after she was discharged from the hospital.
So, our dropping off the blogging face of the earth had more to do with the house situation than just Katia's adjustment and hospitalization.
We are looking to move very soon into our own place which may not be a purchase but another rental for now.
Katia is doing so well and is scheduled to have a g-tube placed surgically feeding into her stomach and not through her nose to her stomach anymore. The surgery is scheduled for January 3 (my late mother's birthday) if she stays well. This should improve many things we've been told and are dreading the pain of surgery and not being able to explain any of it to her yet excited for her to have the ng tube removed and the benefits that it should bring.
We were able to travel to introduce her to both Thomson's and Russell's, where the many aunts, uncles, cousins and her grandparents got to meet her and love on her.
Our children are adjusting so well to her and we want to share more of who she is as we get to know her and what is what but this is all we can manage for this post. At least you got a glimpse of her on her birthday. We realize that she stood to be transferred one year ago where she would have lost her life to being left to die alone but through the grace of God, she is here with her own family. She has brought great sweetness into our home and we are very blessed.
First a quick update on Katia. Heather will fill on all the details later, but our little girl is gaining weight and getting great care. She is still in Sparrow hospital in Lansing, and we have been impressed with the competence and quality of care she has received. Still undergoing a battery of tests to determine correct levels of anti seizure medications. No firm answers yet, and we'll try to do better at keeping you posted.
I wanted to give an encouraging word to you in this brief account of how we fared financially. Many of you contributed hard earned money to help us travel and provide for Katia while we were in the Ukraine. Seeing some of these gifts come in was humbling, as I know it must have stretched your finances. Knowing this made us very cautious in how we spent overseas, and that this money wasn't really ours to spend any way we wished. However, we did our best not to be wasteful as we knew we were to be good stewards of this money.
While we were abroad, all the money that we were given to us was carried on our persons (in concealed fanny type packs) all the time. It felt a little disconcerting to carry so much money with me at one time, especially knowing we kinda stood out as foreigners in almost every way and could be an easy target. I was constantly aware of my surroundings and alert.
In the back of my mind I would often wonder, so what would happen if we ran out of money over here? Prior to coming we had carefully estimated how much meals, lodging, and fees would be. This was at best though an estimation, and Helen was able to give us some good advice here. Still, day to day I wondered. Our first apartment was more than we calculated and the second was more in the range we were looking for. Cooking our own meals helped saves some dough (yes I intended that) and thankfully when we did have to eat out, one of our favorite restaurants was very reasonable, feeding all of us for about $15. Still I wondered, and we kept daily records of what we spent and what we had left, writing them down in a little book. This was a great exercise for us, and felt like we knew the "state of our flocks" very well.
Fast forward to when we landed back in the US, I hadn't had a chance to do the accounting for the last 2 days of travel, but I was telling a friend at dinner that I wouldn't be surprised if we were within a couple hundred of what was allotted for the trip. When I finally got to add up what was left, after re-imbursing a friend who had purchased some things we needed, we were within $5. Five dollars (I'd be happy to show anyone our little book if you're interested)! This took into account our pediatric doctor visit when we returned, but was pretty amazing to me to realize this. We started out with about $12,000 when we first set off. I thanked the Lord for not having to be in a place of need while overseas, and for answering our prayers for help and provisions to do what He called us to. He is so good to us, so faithful! God had precisely calculated every dollar given by every person for this trip. It became evident to me that no one gave more than they needed to and to those who gave a little, it was just as necessary.
So, please know we are grateful to you all, and words fall short in expressing our gratitude. You played a vital part in bringing this little girl home and you speak the gospel to the world as loudly as any of us do (see verses below). God will (and maybe already has) supplied all your needs, just as He has (and is supplying) ours. The gifts you have given will not leave you short, but will bring fruit, if not now, in the future. This is our prayer for you... a bountiful 'horn of plenty' spilling out for you in every possible way in your lives from God Himself!
You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:11-15 ESV)