Hidden Angels: American Families Saving Children With Down Syndrome


Her first car ride. Her first ice cream. Her first McDonald's. Her first chance to chase pigeons. Her first pillow fight with her dad. Her first time sleeping under the same roof with her parents.

"She didn't know all the opportunities she was going to get here. All she knew was that these two people loved her and that she was worth something now," Kecia said. "And you could see it in her eyes."

When her feet touched down on U.S. soil for the first time in June, Mia Kareen Cox became an American citizen.

There was a crush of family and friends waiting for them at the Salt Lake City airport. Tears flowed as Kris and Kecia squeezed the daughters they hadn't seen in a month. Mia's new grandparents got their first look at their newest granddaughter. And Kyra, Adrie and Bree got to hug their new sister.

For her part, Mia seemed as happy as could be with the attention. Pictures from her homecoming show her with a wide grin on her face.

That night she went to sleep in her own bed, next to Bree's.

In the weeks that followed, Mia changed a little bit more every day. Her pale skin became rosy from spending time in the summer sun. Her once unsteady gait morphed into a toddle and then a full blown run. Doctors say her weak legs are much stronger and she will eventually walk normally.

Her hair grew in thicker and she gained weight, benefitting from a new diet that included fruits, vegetables and protein.

She began learning sign language and now signs words like "shoes" and "more." She says "bye-bye" and "Papa" or "Daddy" and knows what it means to "give loves" – to wrap her arms around her parents or her sisters for a big hug and kiss.

Her sisters have taught her how to play on the swingset, how to terrorize the backyard in a motorized Barbie jeep, how to put on dance parties in the playroom. For Halloween she was a watermelon to Bree's strawberry.

"They were just so excited to have her home. They just hugged her and kept saying how cute she was," Kecia said, tearing up." They haven't for one minute questioned that she's part of our family. They've just taken her in and she loves them."

There have been a few small hiccups, some sibling rivalry with Bree and an unwillingness to cry, something Kecia and Kris think was discouraged in the orphanage.

She's also overly polite at the dinner table, preferring to eat all foods, even potato chips, with a fork.

"We have to Americanize that a little bit," Kecia said.

And in the weeks after Mia's homecoming, another change to their family came. Kecia and Kris learned that after years of trying, they had gotten pregnant while in Ukraine, with identical twin girls.

The girls' pediatrician Dr. Terry Omura said he believes Mia should catch up to Bree quickly. He has referred her to a cardiologist to check out the supposed murmur doctors in Ukraine heard when Mia was a baby.

"I was actually fairly impressed that she was very well adjusted, very outgoing and very, very social. I was kind of expecting her to be more withdrawn and quiet," Omura said. "But the first thing she did was jump up on the exam table and she started playing with my stethoscope."

At home, Kris and Kecia have no doubt that Mia will continue making up for lost time.

"We haven't even touched on her capabilities. She has so much to give and that the world gets to see that now ," Kecia said. "She doesn't have to be in a little white room hidden away because of an extra chromosome."

Their message to other families?

"I think I would say there's a great need you know to help these kids. There's a lot more kids that we would have loved to bring home," Kris said. "You know to see the circumstances that they live in – it's tough to have to walk away from them and just hope someday a family will come for them."

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