Rick is from Chattanooga and works for Life Care Centers and Amy McAfee hails from Nashville. They married 10 years ago and have lived in Cleveland three years.
When the matter of adoption came up, they decided to go “international,” a decision which led them to China. Their three adopted children were born cleft babies in China. Their first was Kate. The McAfees found her on their agency’s list as a special-needs child.
Paperwork started for the little girl in 2003. She had a cleft lip and palate, but they decided they could handle that with help from the Craniofacial Foundation with Dr. Larry Sargent, who is well known for his background in helping overseas and local craniofacial disorders.
Two-year-old Kate had lip repair in China and Sargent did palate repair and follow-up. She doesn’t have speech therapy. Kate, age 8 now, is a second-grader at Arnold Elementary.
Amy said they felt comfortable about adopting a child with the medical team of dentist, orthopedist, speech therapist and other resources for growth and medical needs.
Grace, their second, was 2 1/2 when they brought her home. She had severe cleft palate and was sick, which delayed the cleft repair. She had palate repair at age 3. Since she was severely anemic, she had to wait until she was strong enough for surgery. She is now 7 years old and in the first grade at Arnold. She has speech therapy twice each week.
Their son, Aiden, has only been home 16 months. “He was a Christmas present,” Amy said. He had his first repair in July at age 2 1/2. He is a now a preschooler at United Christian Academy. Aiden gets regular evaluations at Erlanger with a special therapy team with Sargent.
Cleft lip and palate, Amy learned, is a fairly common birth defect in China usually inherited from the birth mother. And palate repair is not generally done in China.
As orphans, McAfee said, these children did not have parents for support. The children all came with bad teeth and the medical team’s orthodontist is working to get teeth to come in correctly. Follow-up will include growing revision and braces, but there are no other issues, McAffe said, and everything will be all right after reaching adulthood.
Cleft defects, she said, are very fixable. “I am grateful for the Craniofacial Foundation,” she added.
Since more resources have become available, more and more families are adopting children with birth defects. There are several, she mentioned, in Cleveland, who are also helped by the Craniofacial Foundation.
With a special-needs child, McAfee said, you work through any differences. The family looks through files and photos, and you’re able to choose a child, but there is very little information provided. But, McAfee said, “they fall in together like siblings as if they’re brother and sisters.
The children, she said, are sociable and outgoing and they interact with other children. “It’s so wonderful,” she said, “for them to open their eyes and see different cultures as well as other children with special needs.”
She added she would have liked to learn Chinese and she hopes the children will also know their homeland language.
McAfee said it’s an education for everyone, especially for the older children in their family. “They just merge naturally into the family.”
Although there are just the three children at home, there are family gatherings with all nine children and they call each other regularly. She said she is glad they will always have those relationships.
She described the three as kind, considerate children — “they’ve received, now are giving.” They all have different stories, she continued, but “you could tell they had been loved.”
The McAfees answer their questions about their life in China, but, she said, some reality may be too harsh for a child to hear.
Other than the cleft disorders, the children were healthy, and once “home,” they blossomed, McAfee said. They learned the language easily and have “picked up on Americanisms” fast — like McDonald’s.
Kate, Grace and Aiden have no emotional or other medical needs. They are very loving, she said, and just “soak up” what they’re given.