Hidden Angels: American Families Saving Children With Down Syndrome


As Kris sat on the floor, motioning for Kareen to come see him, she slowly made her way over. She then melted into his arms for the first hug.

"It was exactly what I needed," he said later. "I mean just you know, just kind of a reassurance that what we're doing is right."

And with that, the meeting was over. It lasted just 10 minutes.

Kecia and Kris, alternately excited and overwhelmed, were quickly ushered to a notary. After just three days in Ukraine and only 10 minutes with Kareen, they were asked to confirm whether or not they wanted to adopt her.

They signed the papers on the spot.

"She's not orphan anymore," Angelina said.

They returned to the orphanage the next day to start a routine that would last them the next 3½ weeks. They took Kareen to a small playground on a lot of unmowed grass outside the orphanage.

As Kris carried her around the playground -- she was a Daddy's girl from the very start -- Kecia touched Kris' chest and told Kareen, "Papa."

"Papa," Kareen responded back, touching Kris' chest as Kecia had just done.

They spent that first morning getting to know her. She again rooted through the bag of toys the Cox girls had sent from the U.S. Once again, the toy cell phone was a big hit. The My Little Pony, not so much.

They gave her a small child's board-book filled with photos of her new family. As Kareen turned the pages, she stopped on one page in particular. It was Bree's photograph.

"Bree," Kecia and Kris coaxed her.

"Beeeee …." she responded.

"It's scary to think that had we not been here and been able to you know be here as quickly as we were, it's scary to think what would have happened," Kris said. "This precious little girl would have you know just been you know written off and just given no chance in life."

It was a successful first playdate. But they couldn't help noticing the differences between their newest daughter and Bree.

While Bree jumped and bounded with the enthusiasm of a typical 4-year-old, Kareen -- her skin pale from years spent indoors -- moved with the unsteady gate of a child just learning to walk. While Bree had a full and developing vocabulary, Kareen seemed to speak just a few basic words.

The Coxes, interrupted only by meal breaks, spent the rest of the day with her. They would go back each and every day until the day they left with her never to return.

And they announced she would come to the United States with a new name -- Mia Kareen Cox.

Behind the Institution Gates

It's hard to estimate exactly how many special needs children are institutionalized across Ukraine. Some human rights workers estimate it could be in the tens of thousands. But not all come with proper documentation. And others are simply dropped off and abandoned.

Volunteers Misha Glazov and Alla Vasilieva have been visiting orphans -- special needs and typical children -- for years as part of their charity organization, Bible Orphan Ministry. For the special needs children, they are the only visitors most of them get.

Both Glazov and Vasilieva were sent to orphanages as young children and know exactly how these children feel.

When they drive up to a girls' institution for ages 5 to 35, the girls surround their van, pulling at them and their visitors for hugs, pictures. It is obvious both how much they crave attention and how little of it they get outside of these visits.

"All the time when we come them they say 'Mommy or Papa,'" Vasilieva said. "And I think that they understand and want to be in family."

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