Part One of Three
The Christmas holiday is fast approaching. The hustle and bustle is back, the pressure for “The Best Christmas Ever” builds and the distractions blur the lines of the seasons purpose. Reflecting, I am drawn back to one of the greatest stories of my career and its parallels to the 2000-year-old story of the birth of Jesus.
My story involves a mother faithful to God in the face of an impossible task. She is supported fully by a husband named Joseph. This couple is called to a foreign country for the sake of a child – a child destined to die if nothing is done. This child is a rejected and throwaway citizen of her homeland. They fail to see her for the gift she is…
…But, I’m getting ahead of myself so let me start from the beginning of my involvement.
“Adam, look at this”, my wife Amy says while showing me her iPad. I’m into a good book sitting in bed next to her. A little perturbed, I drop my Kindle into my lap and glance at her screen. This is what I see:
I cannot believe the degree of malnutrition evident in this baby. I am also drawn to the face of the woman. Her expression shows compassion, concern and anger. My assumptions about the woman later prove true (the anger is righteous) but my first impression is wrong – I am not looking at a baby.
Katerina is nine years old, she weighs 10 pounds and like Jesus at His birth, there is no room in the world for her.
Amy captures my full attention as she brings me up to date on the Musser family story. She’s spent the last several days reading the family’s blog, The Blessing of Verity (click here). I learn that Joe and Susanna Musser have 10 children. Their youngest is Verity, an adorable baby that happens to have Down Syndrome. Their blog highlights the ups and, well, downs of life with a child that is chromosomally enhanced. Their journey through Verity’s first year of life is a bumpy one. Yet, the struggles they face yield great strength. The muscles they build open their eyes and hearts to special needs adoption. This awakening leads them to Katerina.
Amy tells me the picture above is from Susanna’s first visit to meet Katerina. If a picture is worth a thousand words, Susanna learns being there is worth millions. She discovers a modern-day holocaust in the orphanage. Katerina is one of many children warehoused on a squalid, forgotten, upper floor. Susanna’s five senses are overwhelmingly assaulted as she enters the place imprisoning her daughter. These conditions exist because of greed, corruption and flagrant disregard for life. Susanna’s first visit to her new daughter quickly ends. She is only allowed to spend three days with Katerina to determine if her family will commit to her adoption. The Mussers already answered that question prior to this trip; Katerina, in their mind, is their daughter and her name is Katie. Susanna finds leaving her so much worse than meeting her. She can only trust that God is in this situation and can turn evil to good. She returns to the United States with a new vigor – Bring Katie Home!
Susanna seeks advice on multiple fronts on her return. She is also inundated with unsolicited guidance – sometimes good and other times not. She consults with CHOP Adopt (the international adoption health program of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia – click here for website) for medical advice. The CHOP Adopt team reads all available (limited) information and return a very bleak assessment. “We’ve never seen malnutrition to this degree”, they inform the Mussers. The assessment is blunt and indicates there is a significant possibility that Katie may die in transport. Her biggest risk is Refeeding Syndrome (click here for a scholarly article used in our preparation) –This syndrome, first described in victims liberated from the Jewish death camps of World War Two, causes an electrolyte shift cascade with deadly consequences. It is triggered when attempts to reverse malnutrition occurs too rapidly. Today, victims (primarily those with anorexia or critical illness) of refeeding are admitted to intensive care units and managed by teams of experts. CHOP Adopt’s, Dr. Susan Friedman recommends the Mussers find someone with medical training to escort them on Katie’s trip home.
Amy pauses at this point – She likes to give me time to catch up to her! I do and it hits me like a ton of bricks.
- An ICU nurse familiar with refeeding syndrome
- A nurse with Pediatric ICU experience
- A nurse with Emergency Nursing experience
- An adoptive father familiar with the medical needs of neglected orphans
- A client of CHOP Adopt – they’ve been our go to resource on all our past adoptions.
- A husband with a wife looking for him to step up to the set-up she is placing before him.
I say to Amy, “What do you think about me offering to help them?” She responds by sending Susanna an e-mail. The Mussers respond with a “Yes!!!” but also indicate my unplanned expenses add an additional hurdle. Amy takes this problem on and informs the Mussers that she will fundraise to cover my costs. Amy takes to her own blog (http://justamomofseven.blogspot.com) and writes:
We estimate Adam’s travel expenses (airfare, food, lodging) will be around $1500. We cannot burden this family to fundraise for this expense. God is always so faithful! He has provided the funds for us to adopt 6 children internationally over the last 6 years, so we know this is merely pocket change in His economy. If you feel led, please use the ChipIn box above.
Her follow-up post 3 days later goes like this:
Our Mighty God!
The mission is fully funded! Thank you, Lord! Thank you to everyone who contributed and spread the word. We were so moved to watch that ChipIn climb higher and higher. Wow! God is so good! Oh how He loves these precious ones.
He will rescue the poor when they cry to him; he will help the oppressed, who have no one to defend them. He feels pity for the weak and the needy, and he will rescue them. He will redeem them from oppression and violence, for their lives are precious to him.
Please continue to PRAY earnestly for sweet Katerina! Pray for her family, pray for my husband, and pray for the medical team that is prepping to care for her soon. We are so blessed to share a part in this amazing journey.
Five to ten dollar donations, primarily, multiply to $1500 and all systems are go. I meet with the CHOP Adopt team and Susanna via a telephone conference call. We meet weekly and carefully consider every aspect and need. Dr. Friedman stresses the possibility of Katie dying, despite my presence, in every meeting. Susanna and Joe remain undaunted.
November 1st, the Mussers receive a travel date of November 10th. Our preparation goes into high gear! I sit with the CHOP Adopt team at the last meeting of our planning group. I receive instructions on placement of a nasogastric tube, brittle bone precautions (Katie is so fragile that routine things like dressing her can fracture her bones) and pediatric life support should Katie code. Dr. Friedman cannot hide her concern for me and asks me how I will endure if Katie dies in my charge. I discuss the faith in God I share with the Mussers and tell her I am confident there is a greater purpose to this mission then just getting Katie home. She blesses me by telling me her prayers and 24-hour support go with me.
The Mussers leave three days ahead of me to complete paperwork to finalize Katie’s adoption. They will travel to Katie’s region and bring her back to the capital city of her country. I plan to arrive 16 hours after this happens. My instructions are to take a cab from the airport to the Mussers’ hotel. My ability to communicate with home during the 17 hours of travel is hampered by technology and time zones. I arrive, collect my belongings and pray that I find an English-speaking cabbie that can get me to the hotel. Instead, I see a woman standing outside customs; my name is handwritten on the placard she is holding. My relief of having a car service sent for me is short lived. She says to me, “The child is very ill. She is in hospital. I take you”.
My heart drops and fear fills its place.