Saving Ellie: Battered Adoptive Parents Give Up Out-Of-Control Child
Little Ellie had fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Sept. 27, 2010— -- Lori and Craig Gertz, parents from Long Grove, Ill., were faced with a heartbreaking and unimaginable choice: to keep their family together, or to give up one of their kids in order to protect the others.
Seven-year-old, adopted daughter Ellie was out of control, hurting her siblings and trying to hurt herself -- all because she was born with a condition called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
She was virtually impossible to soothe and would cry for hours, Gertz said. Touching and rocking only made Ellie worse. As she grew older, Ellie lashed out at anyone who would say no, and even pushed her mother -- then eight months pregnant -- down the stairs.
By the age of six, she'd had four psychiatric hospitalizations and made numerous suicide attempts.
"Last fall things really got pretty bad and she started to run into traffic with intent to kill herself," Gertz said on "Good Morning America" today. "The responsibility was solely on me to keep her from running into traffic."
Specialists began to recommend residential treatment. They worried that Ellie might one day fatally hurt her siblings.
So three months ago, the family did the unthinkable -- they sent their adoptive daughter, now 7, to Washington state to live with another family. They might have the expertise and emotional distance from the troubled child to cope with her.
"I just never, in my life, could imagine even associating with having to let my baby go," said Gertz, 47, a marketing specialist. "I will always love my Ellie."
"Our family was being destroyed," she said after seeing 38 specialists and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Ellie. "Our savings is gone. We have paid out of our pocket everything to take care of our daughter."
Gertz was so stressed that Ellie could explode at a moment's notice, battering her little sister's Talia's head against the wall, that she was getting chest pains. "I had to watch Ellie like a hawk," she said.
Theirs is not an adoption-gone-wrong story. Gertz said she would adopt again in a heartbeat.
Instead, Ellie's lack of impulse control, inability to bond and neurological problems were diagnosed as having been caused by FASD -- a condition that affects as many children as autism, yet gets a fraction of the medical attention and resources.
The child's biological mother was an addict, but the worst of her vices -- crack cocaine, PCP, heroin and methamphetamine -- were nothing compared to the alcohol that had ravaged Ellie's developing brain in the first trimester of pregnancy.
"Even after all the drugs our birth mother did, it was the alcohol which left Ellie with the legacy she had," Gertz said on "GMA."
Lori Gertz and her husband Craig, a lawyer, have faced roadblocks at every turn, first diagnosing her condition and then getting support services.
And now, they have entered in to an arrangement called third-party guardianship, because they cannot afford the $160,000 a year for a residential treatment program.
They have handed over full control of Ellie's education and upbringing for a year, when the families will then make a final decision about her care.
"At the end of the year, we're going to all sit down and see what's next for Ellie and what's the next step," said Craig Gertz.
Lori Gertz decided to go public with her story because of the "shame and guilt" that she feels, unable to nurture the daughter she loves as much as her two biological children, Jonah, now 11, and Talia, 5.
"I could not be everything I promised to the child," she said.
She started a blog about FASD, and hopes to help others by sharing her journey with Ellie in a book, "Not of My Womb: Parenting the Legacy of an Addict."