A family: Five years after adoption

Karen Sellers-Myers and Sophia

Karen and Sophia sharing an embrace as mother and daughter. (Courtesy Photo from Karen Sellers-Myers.)

Merriam Websters Dictionary defines adoption as "to take by choice into a relationship; especially: to take voluntarily (a child of other parents) as one's own child".

For Karen Sellers-Myers, safety monitor for Clinical Services Support Division of the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, adoption was the only choice after meeting a special little girl in the Republic of Georgia five years ago. This adoption story is different however, in the fact that this particular little girl was born with a disability, a cleft lip and palate.

While working as a nurse in the Medical Division of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in 2004, Sellers-Myers made several trips to the Republic of Georgia, located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe. During one trip, she visited a local orphanage after learning of a child with facial deformities. The description she received of this child sounded like a double cleft palate, which Sellers-Myers knows about all too well, having herself been born with the same deformity.

"When I met this little girl, we immediately formed a connection and I knew that I had to help this child in some way," said Sellers-Myers.

When a medical adoption, which covers all medical expenses while the child stays in her native country, could not work out, it seemed that adopting the child into her family as her own was the only option. On Christmas Eve 2007, Sellers-Myers traveled once more to the Republic of Georgia - this time to pick up her new four year-old daughter, she named Sophia.

"The most rewarding part of adoption has been having a front row seat to a miracle. She humbles me daily with her zest for life and her compassion and care for others," said Sellers-Myers.

Sophia will be nine years old on June 12, and is enjoying being a part of a family. For the past five years her family has embraced her as one of their own. Sophia has come into a family with three grown sisters and three nieces and one nephew.

According to Sellers-Myers, "She has an open understanding that family is not only those that 'come out of your belly'. She asks every day, 'who is coming over?' We have a wall chart that she lists out not only the by blood family, but those that are family of the heart."

Sophia has memories of a time that was not so pleasant and she chooses to be happy with the most basic of life in the U.S. Sophia likes to say, 'I have family'."

Sophia was living in an orphanage in a Third World Country, with no hope for medical assistance for her condition. The orphanage did not have the means to care for a special needs child, and all it would take is one cold or sinus infection that could have killed her. Today, she has the advantage of living in the Washington D.C./Baltimore metro suburbs, with some of the best physicians in the country to care for her. Sophia has undergone 13 surgeries to date to help correct her double cleft palate. It has been a major process for such a young child to go through, and something that would not have been possible while living in the Republic of Georgia.

"She will have several years now until her next major series of surgeries, once it is determined that her facial bones have matured and she has stopped growing," said Sellers-Myers.

At that time she will have several surgeries that will include placing spacers a little more than an inch long in the upper jaw. Four to six weeks later, the spacers will be removed and bone from her hip will be inserted to 'grow' her upper jaw, which will give her face a more normal look and will improve her speech and chewing. In addition, bone will be harvested from her nose, (she will get a nice nose job) and then more oral surgery for implanted teeth.

Sellers-Myers hopes to travel to the Republic of Georgia soon, and continue a friendship for Sophia which was started last year with a little girl named Gvantsa, who travelled from the Republic of Georgia to stay with them at their home in Pennsylvania for 10 days.

"We hope to foster an international friendship between [United States and the Republic of Georgia] so that Sophia may have positive memories about her birth country," explained Sellers-Myers.

Along with the everyday changes for Sophia, she has gained a wealth of knowledge by the educational advantages for a child living in the United States.

According to Sellers-Myers, Sophia has attended several schools as she has progressed with her learning. Most recently, she attended Scotland Elementary in Chambersburg, Penn. utilizing the hearing-impaired whole language classroom.

"Sophia's favorite class is gym or computer. Library is her least favorite because she has to sit still and listen, hard for her as she is a girl on the move with constant questions."

In the fall of 2012 Sophia will begin third grade at Shalom Christian Academy in Chambersburg.

Sophia plans to become a doctor when she grows up, so that she can help other people the way so many doctors have helped her. The healthcare field seems to run in the family, as all three of her adult sisters and her mother are all nurses. There is something beautiful about this particular family not just professionally helping others, but truly making a difference in the world, and certainly a world of difference for Sophia.

[Editor's Note: This story referenced "'She Wakes with a Smile' Girl finds new home, better life with nurse" by Caree Vander-Linden, USAMRIID Public Affairs, and published Thursday, March 13, 2008.]

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Last Modified Date: 13-Jun-2012