Contribute to a Lifetime of Love

How the Special Needs Adoption Fund (SNAF) changes lives.

Over four years ago, Dani and Ivy Marks of New Jersey received a phone call from Holt’s China program. Finally, they heard the words they had longed to hear. They had a referral for an 8-month-old girl from Hunan province, China. “We both had tears of joy and stared at every inch of her referral picture, looking at her little feet and hands, a little tummy that showed through her summer outfit that seemed too big for her,” Ivy wrote in an article for the Winter 2008 Holt magazine. “We instantly fell in love.”

Their daughter-to-be had a repaired cleft lip, but she would need surgery for a cleft palate once home in New Jersey. After evaluating their resources, Ivy and Dani knew they could handle the medical costs associated with her surgery and rehabilitation, as well as the extra demand on their time and energy. Overjoyed, they accepted her referral. “We made this choice enthusiastically and are energized by the fact that we have the resources to help one child who will be our baby girl!” Ivy wrote. The following January, the Marks family traveled to China to meet – and take home – their daughter, Kira.

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Three years have since passed. And Kira has come into her own. “Kira was generally weak and unable to walk at a year of age and today is a little gymnast who likes to impress her coaches with her strength and agility,” says Ivy. “She is also quite the chatty little gal, with a heart of gold.”

As for Ivy and Dani, Kira has enriched their lives with love and happiness – so much so that in 2010, they turned right around to adopt again. “It’s easy to see why so many go back and re-adopt over and over again,” says Ivy. Again, they applied to Holt’s China program for a child with a special need, and in April of 2011, they received a referral for a 15-month-old girl. This little one had a very complex and rare defect that occurs, Ivy says, in 1:30,000 live births; she was born with her entire bladder on the outside of her body.

With help from Beth Smith, Holt’s services director for China, they contacted another Holt family who had adopted a child with the same condition. They also contacted an international adoption physician who referred them to a local urologist in Philadelphia. After speaking to him, Ivy did her own research and immediately contacted a surgeon at Johns Hopkins University.

They learned that their daughter would require at least two major surgeries to repair her bladder. “There are very few centers in the United States capable of successfully performing this delicate surgery,” says Ivy, “and none in China.”

In other words, if she stayed in China, the little girl referred to Ivy and Dani would not be able to get the life-saving surgical repair she needed.

As with Kira’s adoption, Ivy and Dani considered what they could reasonably manage. After a few hours of consulting the physicians, they accepted the referral for their youngest daughter – Shelby.

Overjoyed to be bringing another daughter into their lives, they began planning for Shelby’s arrival – as well as her medical care. But as they met with some unanticipated expenses – including an 8-week, out-of-state hospitalization – the mounting cost of care for Shelby became daunting. “When my husband and I realized how extensive her medical and incidental costs associated with out-of-state hospitalization were going to be, we realized we were going to need some help,” says Ivy.

They contacted Beth Smith at Holt, who told them about a special fund designed for families just like theirs – the SNAF fund.

For many families, the cost to adopt a child is itself quite challenging. Often, families adopting children with special needs face an even greater financial burden, as many of these children – like Shelby – will require expensive medical procedures once home. To help families like Ivy and Dani Marks, Holt created the Special Needs Adoption Fund to offset the cost of adoption for children with special medical or developmental needs. SNAF grants not only help families afford the cost to adopt, it frees up their resources to cover any special medical care their child may require once home.

Most importantly, it helps ensure a loving, permanent family for a child who might not have another opportunity to be adopted.

Shortly after submitting their request, Ivy and Dani Marks were awarded a SNAF grant to bring home Shelby. “We were very grateful to receive the SNAF grant…It helped us greatly to afford the adoption!” says Ivy. “Once we returned home with her, there were also other non-insured medical costs like her medicated ointments and dressings – which I think were over $500 up to the day of surgery – and that didn’t include the 1,800 or so wipes and hundreds of diapers we went through!”

Shelby came home in October of 2011. After four months, in which Ivy – a trained nurse – devoted herself to cleaning, dressing and protecting Shelby’s bladder from infection, Shelby had her first major surgery on January 25th. For Shelby to receive this extensive and delicate 10-hour procedure, the Marks family had to travel from New Jersey to the Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Maryland – and stay there for eight weeks while Shelby recuperated.

After a harrowing ten hours, Ivy was elated to see her daughter.

“When I first saw Shelby, I was completely overjoyed as I looked down at her tiny legs, straight for the first time,” says Ivy. The doctors not only repaired her bladder defect, they stabilized her pelvic bones so she can stand straight and walk normally. “I cried tears of joy that my little girl now looks like a little girl and will be able to do all the things little girls should be doing at her age.”

Shelby is now in her fourth week of recovery, and remains heavily sedated – mostly to keep her remaining still and lying flat, which is crucial for the healing process. Medications help her sleep most of the day.

“When she wakes up, she’s really awake and likes to be read to, or help the nurses,” says Ivy. “She’s a real courageous and strong baby. Just like Kira, she makes me proud to say I’m her momma!”

Ultimately, the success of her surgery will depend on how big her bladder continues to grow during the next few years. Shelby will also require at least one more major bladder surgery when she gets a little older. But because of the medical care Ivy and Dani went to such great lengths to give her, she will doubtless live a much more carefree life. Without treatment, Shelby would have spent the rest of her life in diapers. Now, she has a 60-70 percent chance of full, normal functioning of her bladder.

“We are just elated that she will be able to lead a very normal life,” says Ivy.

Already, she is a different child in many ways. “She has surprised us with how quickly she transitioned from a sad, very tiny toddler to a happy, robust, energetic little babe,” says Ivy.

Ivy and Dani recently wrote a thank you letter to the SNAF donors who helped fund their adoption. In it, they write, “Your kindness and generosity will not be forgotten.”

Indeed, watching Shelby continue to grow happy, healthy and energetic – just like any other little girl her age – will be a constant reminder of how kindness and generosity has worked in their lives, and the lives of many more families and children who also received a grant from the Special Needs Adoption Fund.

A grant that brought one special child into one loving family. “I am,” says Ivy, “just thankful and blessed to be an adoptive parent to this amazing child.”

Robin Munro | Managing Editor

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