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Adopting Our Son with Apert Syndrome
Zhuzhu was adopted by Laura Jean and David in 2016. The University of Minnesota Health Adoption Medicine Clinic team provided for many of Zhuzhu's medical needs after the adoption, and also lent support and medical guidance to Laura and David during the adoption process. Laura and her husband David always knew they wanted to adopt a second child. Their older daughter, Nastia, joined the family through an international adoption from Russia in 2012.
So when they were ready to grow their family again they contacted their adoption agency to begin the process. This time, they knew they wanted to adopt from China. In December 2016, the couple met with University of Minnesota Health Adoption Medicine Physician Judith Eckerle, MD, for a pre-adoption consultation. Eckerle, a member of our Adoption Medicine Clinic, helped them to understand all of the medical and developmental conditions on the medical checklist provided by adoption agencies.
“The list is overwhelming, so we were glad to have a doctor help us understand what the different issues might mean for the child and our family,” Laura said.
In June 2015, David and Laura’s agency asked them to look at a referral for a 4-year old little girl Zhu Er (which means Little Pearl). Though she was born with a bilateral facial cleft and missing left eye, Zhu Er—who goes by Zhuzhu (JuJu)—seemed like a good fit for their family.
Laura and David decided to move forward and asked the doctors at the Adoption Medicine Clinic to review the medical and developmental information provided by the orphanage. While they discussed Zhuzhu’s medical needs with the family, Eckerle and other experts at the clinic were very optimistic about her potential to thrive here in Minnesota.
“With the specialty care of the Adoption Medicine Clinic we were confident we would have the support and services to be the parents Zhuzhu would need,” Laura said. “The clinic was with us every step of the way, providing us with pre-adoption counseling, reviewing our referral, travel counseling and post adoption care. We know we can count on them to continue to support our family as both of our children grow.”
Despite being visually impaired, Zhuzhu’s facial cleft does not pose any particular challenges to her day-to-day life. She is, however, required to wear glasses to protect her right eye.
Initially, care providers at the University of Minnesota Health Cleft and Craniofacial Services program thought Zhuzhu would need major facial reconstruction to repair the orbital bones around her eye socket, but further CT scans showed this wouldn’t be necessary. In the future, she will likely have several outpatient procedures to help her left eye socket expand properly to fit a prosthetic eye and address the coloboma and muscles under her left eyelid. It’s likely that Zhuzhu will also need extensive dental work–including major surgery to repair the cleft in her jawbone.
While Zhuzhu has only been with the family for a couple of months, she is adjusting beautifully. She is a self-assured, confidant, curious, funny, smart and affectionate child, Laura said.
“Zhuzhu and Nastia are peas in a pod; they love Friday night movies with popcorn and same-room sleep overs, playing with dolls, puzzles and visits with grandmother,” Laura said.
Laura is grateful for the support from their adoption agency—and the generosity of family members and friends who helped them raise the funds needed to adopt Zhuzhu. She also thanks the University of Minnesota Health Adoption Medicine Clinic for helping her family grow and giving them a chance to change the life of one child.
“It was scary to adopt a child knowing they may have one or more surgeries ahead—and that we wouldn’t really have an in-depth understanding of those needs until we brought her home,” Laura said. Thankfully, we didn’t let fear make the decision for us.”
The unknown, Laura believes, is often scarier than the reality. And that reality, she added, turned out to be a beautiful and charming 5-year-old who fits right in.
“We are so glad that we took that leap to become parents again despite all the unknowns any child brings with them. Once you meet your child it is difficult to imagine your life without them.”
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