When Adam and Karen Owens lost their son Gavin at age 3 and a half, they left the hospital in intense grief. At the same time, they shared a strong feeling that Gavin’s story would continue.
Adam, Karen and their daughter Madison (Madi) have welcomed four new brothers and sisters into their family through adoption. Although each of the children is medically fragile, they are thriving now. Adam and Karen speak of themselves as a parents to six: Madi (10), Siah (10), Angela (7), Jayden (6), Harper (4), and Gavin, always remembered and loved.
What Gavin taught his family
As time passed after the loss of Gavin in 2009, the couple began to research adoption. Finding the AdoptUSKids website put Adam and Karen on the path to adoption through the foster care system.
They soon saw that there were kids in the foster care system who had medical issues and needed homes. Adam remembers their realization: “We have all these skills we learned from caring for Gavin: we can be the home for these kids.” (Born with mitochondrial disease, a rare condition that causes cells to stop making energy, Gavin had needed on-going medical care from an early age.)
Meanwhile, Madi was missing having a sibling and was more than ready to play with and love a child with medical issues.
A van full of kids
Between 2010 and 2011, Angela and Jayden joined the Owens family. Angela is diagnosed with 1p36 deletion syndrome, cerebral palsy, and cortical blindness, while Jayden had suffered brain damage, is deaf, is cortically blind from being shaken as a baby, and uses a tracheostomy to breathe.
As time passed, Jayden was able to go off a number of his medications, becoming more lively and curious. Angela learned to communicate via the PODD communication system (a symbol-based communication system) and mastered the use of a walker.
Seeing the positive changes, the Owens’ adoption agency called them about a one-year-old girl, Harper, who was diagnosed with 15q duplication and fetal alcohol syndrome. The family soon welcomed Harper to their home.
In late 2014, the couple learned of a nine-year-old boy named Siah who had spent his life in a nursing home. He had conditions that Karen and Adam already knew how to care for, including cerebral palsy and a tracheostomy. “We looked at each other and thought about our van—it had one empty seat left. We knew we needed to bring Siah home,” Karen says.
Work and rewards
Karen and Adam don’t underplay that it takes work to care for medically fragile children. As they told the Philadelphia Inquirer, even a trip to the beach involves bringing wheelchairs and multiple types of medical equipment. But the rewards are great. During last year’s beach trip, Siah felt waves for the first time.
Because of their parents’ advocacy, Siah, Angela, and Jayden are in mainstream classrooms, with their peers, for about 90 percent of the day. “The kids have so many friends now we can’t even keep track,” Karen says. They also have made great strides with different forms of communication.
“None of our adoptive kids knew what it meant to be a sibling before. Now, they know they are a family, whether it’s a brother-sister squabble, Jayden snuggling with Si, or Harper observing her older brothers and sisters with total fascination,” Adam says.
“When kids find caring adults that believe in them and their potential, amazing things happen,” Karen adds.