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More than a Gift: How #RAREis and Gift of Adoption Change Lives

By Kevin Beerman / December 5, 2019

A few weeks ago, Andrea Saul and her three-year-old daughter Angie were in the hospital together. Angie had come down with pneumonia, so they went to the emergency room. All in all, they weren’t all that worried about it.

“This isn’t our first rodeo,” Andrea says. “This is small beans compared to most of her stuff. I don’t even have to go to the fancy city emergency room. I am going to be working from here.”

In the past two years, Andrea and Angie have been through seven surgeries together, which is why a little time here in the ER isn’t anything for them to write home about.

When Angie was born, she came months early. There were complications. She didn’t have a fully formed right leg, she couldn’t breath properly, she had too many fingers and toes, and she didn’t have a functional digestive tract. Her biological parents couldn’t provide her with the care that she needed, so they surrendered custody to the Costa Rican government.

Due to her medical needs, Angie was in and out of surgery for the first year of her life. She got a steady stream of oxygen through a tube to keep her breathing. She was sick so often that she had trouble keeping up with typical growth benchmarks, eventually falling to the first percentile in both height and weight. When she was just 12-months-old, she underwent a critical, life-endangering open-heart surgery after she ended up in the ICU where doctors determined she would die if they didn’t pursue the risky procedure.

For almost two years, Angie got vital medical attention in moments of crisis, but was left waiting for other important procedures as she continued to grow up in a state-run orphanage in Costa Rica.

Then Andrea came.

The Gift of Adoption

For almost three years, Andrea had been working a second job in addition to her full-time career in the nonprofit sector where she connected children and adults with disabilities to necessary services. Andrea needed the extra income because she knew that she wanted to pursue adoption and that she wanted to adopt a child with disabilities.

“I decided that if I didn’t have kids of my own by the time I made it to my mid 30’s, I would pursue adoption,” Andrea recalls. “And at that point, there are plenty of people who want to adopt healthy babies. There is nothing that is wrong with that, but these kids with certain kinds of special needs don’t get adopted a lot of the time.”

She had been saving money for years, putting nearly $30,000 into the adoption process without borrowing a cent. Then in December of 2017 she got a phone call. Even though she was pursuing adoption in Columbia and Peru, the agency she was working with reached out to tell her that they had a child in Costa Rica who fit her profile and who was ready to move into a new home. All she had to do was get on a plane, get to Costa Rica for eight weeks to finalize the adoption, and everything would be set.

The only problem: that cost more money than Andrea had.

Not wanting to go into debt before she adopted a child (she thought this would be irresponsible) Andrea went about discovering alternative sources of funding. After some quick research, she discovered Gift of Adoption and everything changed.

Through this fund, Gift of Adoption provides modest grants—in Andrea’s case, just $3,500—for expenses in the final phase of the adoption process, guaranteeing that their funding definitively helps a child become adopted. For Andrea, that meant she could go to Costa Rica and spend the necessary amount of time there to facilitate Angie’s adoption.

“Angie is in a different place now than if I had to wait another six months to adopt her because I was waiting for that last fundraising push,” Angie says. “I had really gone out of the way to finance it myself because I felt like it was the responsible thing to do. Nobody is going to be able to adopt because of $3,500 grants—that doesn’t even begin to touch the cost. But at the right time it makes a difference for the child and the family. There are a lot of Angie’s out there, and it takes a lot of resources to find them.”

And that’s the profound support that Andrea got from Gift of Adoption: the crucial funding she needed to go to Costa Rica for what proved to be an atypical adoption. Prior to Angie, the Costa Rican government did not intentionally seek out international families to adopt children with unique medical needs, even if they couldn’t find homes in the country. They just placed the child into long-term institutional care. With Andrea’s case, they saw a unique opportunity to try something they had never done before: match a child with serious medical needs with a foreign family that can provide that vital care.

“I thought, ‘none of this particularly scares me,’” Andrea says of the moment she first saw Angie’s profile. “I mean it’s a lot of stuff but you know I think it’s all the stuff I can handle. It really is a great thing when a child’s needs match what the family and community have to offer.”

Beyond the unique legal situation through which she was adopted, Situations like Angie’s inspired Gift of Adoption to establish an entirely separate adoption fund. They partnered up with Horizon Therapuetics to establish the #RAREis Adoption fund because 10 percent of all the grants Gift of Adoption gives help children with rare diseases, like Angie. Horizon, in a genuine act of  commitment to the rare disease community, launched the #RAREis Adoption Fund at Gift of Adoption to unite 30 children with rare diseases with their permanent families, allowing them to get the medical care they need to thrive. Since the fund was launched, nine children with rare disease have received a #RAREis grant to complete their adoptions.

So, with the modest grant provided by Gift of Adoption in hand, Andrea got on a plane and went to Costa Rica, setting two lives on a collision course with change.

Profound Gratitude

Today, Angie is thriving.

After coming to America with Andrea—in a whirlwind two months that culminated with Andrea having Angie’s passport made at the Costa Rican state department during their staff Christmas party—Angie started to get the significant medical attention that she needed, and hadn’t received in her state home. She got a prosthetic leg (which the Costa Rican government had considered “elective” and which Angie wasn’t scheduled to receive until 2020), regular visits to a variety of doctors and healthcare providers, important gastrointestinal procedures, and a wealth of support like she had never known.

Where before people treated Angie as an infant (even though she was a talking two-year-old, she was far underdeveloped for how old she was), they are now starting to treat her more her age. She’s putting on weight; she’s moving around more. She runs up and down the playground. She’s talking in complete sentences. She’s got a sense of humor about her situation.

“She is super funny about it,” Andrea says about how Angie feels about her prosthetic leg. “She knows it kind of freaks kids out sometimes. If we’re at a playground she will climb to the very top and take her leg off and then climb down and be like ‘leg where are you?’”

Andrea and Angie playing

As far as Andrea is concerned, this level of emotional, mental, and physical development is a direct consequence of her being able to getAngie at the exact moment she was able to, in part due to the funding from the #RAREis Adoption Fund and Gift of Adoption.

“It was a resource I didn’t even know existed five years ago that was there in a moment that really made a difference,” Andrea asserts. “In Angie’s case, to be able to come home without delay, to get the timely medical resources, and to be basically be a two-year-old and not be a baby—it made a world of difference.”

Together, Angie and Andrea tackle whatever comes their way. In the emergency room with pneumonia? “We’ll set up Netflix.” Serious discomfort after an invasive surgery? “I’m here with you every step of the way.” Kids at school who don’t understand? “People don’t get to define who you are.” For Andrea, getting to meet each other and become part of each other’s lives changed them both for the better. And for that, she has a “profound gratefulness” to Gift of Adoption.

“You don’t always know the impact of single adoption,” Andrea says. “You can’t control other people but you can love your kids and love all the people that enjoy her. This has been better than what I envisioned.”

Check out this video to learn more about Gift of Adoption and how their partnership with Horizon Therapeutics on the #RAREis fund is impacting the lives of children around the globe.