A common aspect of children suffering with congenital heart defects is Down syndrome. Many cases Babyheart teams care for on missions are children with both a heart defect and Down syndrome. Also sadly, some of these children come from orphanages, whose parents have abandoned them, unable or unwilling to offer proper care for their child who requires special needs. This is what happened to a little Macedonian newborn named Mario. Born with Down syndrome and multiple heart defects he was brought to our Babyheart team on the mission to Skopje, Macedonia. His defects caused a severe depletion in oxygenated blood from getting to his body. He had to fight for every breath. That was until he received a successful operation by Babyheart surgeon, Dr. Marcelo Cardarelli, a ligation PDA and a VSD closure. Then he was off to receive post-operative care in the ICU where he got to meet Respiratory Therapist, Kim Kimball, an ICHF medical volunteer. The Babyheart team saved his life but even with a new and healthy heart, he needed saving of another kind. The staff at Mario’s orphanage did the best they could, but the ratio of 1 to 15 of caregiver to child was not sufficient, especially for the special healthcare needs required by Mario. His chances following a return to the orphanage were not good. What Mario required was something he never had since he came into this world, a kind and loving family. An adoptive family could provide him with a healthy upbringing and a normal life.
That’s where Kim enters the story. An adoptive mother of three children herself, she is very sympathetic to the plight of abandoned children, without hope and not given a chance. Her work as a Bayheart volunteer helped save Mario’s life but Kim did not stop there. She thought about his quality of life long after his heart surgery. She was compelled to do something for Mario and help find him a family. In effect saving his life again from languishing as an unwanted orphan due to the stigma of having Down syndrome and a heart defect. Mario now has a new heart and new hope. “All he needs is a little love, nourishment, and care,” according to Kim.
Kim knew where to go for help. She contacted the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network (NDSAN), a US-based organization whose mission is to ensure that every child with Down syndrome has the opportunity to grow up in a loving family. All it took was an email and a Facebook post and Stephanie Thompson, co-director of NDSAN responded to Kim to begin the process. Then Kim reached out to Macedonia’s Minister of Labor and Social Policy, Monica Bozinovska. Kim was initially not optimistic about receiving a prompt reply from the government, even from a small country like Macedonia. Kim heard from Monica the very next day. She connected NDSAN with Monica and the search for an adoptive family began immediately. There was no luck in Macedonia trying to find a family willing and able to care for a child of Mario’s needs. In America Stephanie was able to locate three prospective families interested in Mario.
“We were so thankful Kim and the International Children’s Heart Foundation were at the right place at the right time,” said Stephanie. “And we appreciated Kim contacting us to identify families for Mario. And great news! One of our families has been identified, and if all clearances go through, they will be his forever family!”
This family Stephanie found through her registry remarkably has experience having adopted another baby with a heart defect and Down syndrome. (they will remain anonymous during the clearance process) Mario will be a perfect fit and a beautiful addition!
Mario continued to receive care in the ICU. The Babyheart volunteers brought clothing and formula up until his recent discharge and return to the orphanage. Monica is now working directly with the family to complete the international adoption process which, if all goes well, usually takes about three months. In this case the mechanisms of bureaucracy moved rather swiftly. Hopefully soon Mario will be with a loving family in the USA. ICHF Clinical Educator/ Nurse Coordinator, Frank Molloy teases Kim by calling her a “serial adopter,” for the number of children she’s adopted. She has adopted 3, ages 6, 5, and 3 and gave birth to one of her own. Her maternal instincts cannot be turned off and her large heart meant to care for children can’t be stopped. That is why she is a Babyheart volunteer traveling the world, attending up to 4 missions every year, and is at the very heart of how ICHF is able save lives, sometimes twice!
The National Down Syndrome Adoption Network maintains a registry of 200 families that are ready to adopt a child with Down syndrome. You can learn more about the NDSAN at www.ndsan.org and www.facebook.com/dsadoption.