Hidden Angels: American Families Saving Children With Down Syndrome


'I Think I Found Our Daughter'
On Jan. 15, 2007, Kareen was born prematurely in a hospital in Donetsk, Ukraine. She was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck and immediately rushed into the pediatric intensive care unit.

For three months, her parents, who had another child at home, came to visit her at the hospital. But then doctors revealed that their baby daughter was born with Down syndrome. Her parents terminated their parental rights. The little girl's paperwork notes that her biological parents "refused to take the child from the maternity hospital."

Just a month after Kareen was born, Kecia Cox was lying in a maternity ward getting the same heartbreaking news Kareen's birth mother would get. Her third daughter -- a 6 pound, 7 ounce girl named Bree -- was diagnosed with Down syndrome. Kecia and Kris were devastated.

"She's not going to be able to drive, and she's not going to go to school and she's not going to dance and you know you have all the future what ifs," Kecia said. "What if she can't do this, what if she doesn't have friends? What if she doesn't know how to talk?"

"And it quickly changed," she said. "And we realized that she was more like our other girls than she was different."

As Bree came home from the hospital and began therapy even as a baby that would help her reach almost all of her developmental milestones at the same time as her "typical" peers, Kareen was living a half a world away.

Social workers later told the Coxes that they believed there might at one time have been a hole in Kareen's heart, not surprisingly, since half of all children with Down syndrome are born with a heart defect. But no definitive testing was done, to the best of their knowledge.

While Bree learned sign language that would lead to speech development, Kareen picked up a few words here and there.

While Bree's outfits were selected from a closetful of clothes, Kareen wore clothing that was rotated among the dozens that passed through her orphanage.

Sometime in 2010 she posed for a photograph in a red shirt with a giant bow perched on top of her shorn hair.

And it was posted on the website for Reece's Rainbow, a five-year nonprofit organization that helps match disabled children -- most of them children with Down syndrome in eastern Europe -- with families in the United States.

Based in Maryland and run by founder Andrea Roberts, herself the mother of a child with Down syndrome, Reece's Rainbow has helped match nearly 600 disabled children from around the world with American families. More than 200 of those children with Down syndrome came from Ukraine.

In December 2010, Kecia, still heartbroken over a miscarriage in the summer of 2010, a miscarriage that came on the heels of an ectopic pregnancy, began looking through the Reece's Rainbow kids more closely.

She had discovered the site that fall and had initially gotten involved to help fundraise. But at Christmastime, after months of soul searching and wondering if there was some higher reason for her miscarriages, an idea began to take shape.

"That's when the adoption wheel started turning," she said, "and we kind of started looking at the pictures and we were like "Uh, is this really what we should do?"

"I was like 'OK, well, if we're going to adopt, I'm adopting a baby. Because I'm baby hungry, I want a baby, I'm not going to get a 4-year-old.'

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