Grace and I went on a mission trip to China in January of 2004 with the goal of helping build a playground at a foster care center in Lang Fang (just south of Beijing) at a home called the Philip Hayden Foundation. Around this time, there was a growing trend towards allowing foreign groups to raise, especially special needs kids, outside of the traditional orphanage in group foster care. While we were there, both Grace and I were just smitten by these children and when we returned to the US we decided to pursue adopting from China.
As we got involved in the process, we decided to pursue adopting two children, rather than just one since we both felt the need for the child to have siblings. Also, at 49 and 48 we were not getting any younger! So we applied for 2 children.
Almost immediately everyone told us that was a waste of time because China does not approve two children simultaneously unless they are twins or siblings and those are very rare. Further, they told us, the cost (about $14,000/child) was the same per child whether you adopted one or more. All of this negative talk was a bit discouraging for both of us, but we felt sure that we should still apply for two children.
Just a couple of days after sending in our initial application, we received a phone call from a company that we normally did business with, and they told us that they owed us some money for work we had done for them several years ago. Although we knew we were due "something" we were not sure how much. They told us we were owed just over $28,000, the exact amount we needed to adopt twins.
Over the next several months, we began the paper trail and, by June, everything was in order with the exception of the approval from the US Immigration Service. In early August, we received a call from the local representative and the woman asked if I was the Don White that did the radio show on WAY-FM, the local station in West Palm Beach. I told her I was, and she told me she was assigned our file at the immigration office and she said that she was a regular listener! However, she said the main reason she called was she noticed we were applying for two children and that since China does not normally allow multiple adoptions she was not sure why. I then shared our story and she said, "I think this was meant to be. I am going to go ahead and approve two visas with one caveat — you must bring by the children to see me once you get home."
With immigration approval in hand, we sent our dossier to China on August 20, 2004. Thus began our wait to be referred a child. However, just a week later, on August 27 we received a call from the adoption agency "A Helping Hand Adoption Agency,"and our contact there, said:
"We just received our list of available children and on top of the list are a set of twin girls that were born September 12, 2003. They both have cleft lips and cleft palates. Their lips have been repaired but their palates still need to be fixed. They are available for adoption and since you are the only people we have that are approved for two children, we want you to have the opportunity to adopt them before anyone else."
We were shocked.
1,500 mile miracle
We thought it would take months to get a referral and here we were a week after finishing our dossier being asked to adopt these two precious packages. My immediate response was "I'm in!", but Grace was more reserved. Questions arose in our minds like:
Would we be able to handle twins? How big a deal is the cleft lip and palate? Are they too young? (At the time, we thought we might be adopting toddlers, not infants) Have we lost our minds?
There were many questions and few answers.
That weekend, Grace got on the Internet and within 24 hours she had the entire life history of both girls.
Here's what she found:
The twins were abandoned when they were only 3 days old in Jiaozou of the Henan province (about 600 miles southwest of Beijing). The director of the Jiaozou orphanage realized their small size made it difficult to handle two cleft babies. Subsequently, the director asked Dr. Joyce Hill of Hope Foster Home if she would foster the twins. Dr. Joyce Hill was an Australian doctor that gave up her practice six years ago to come to China and direct Hope Foster Home in Beijing. Another Australian lady, working as an orphanage volunteer in Jiaozou, delivered the twins to Hope Foster Home when the twins were only 12 days old. All of this information available at our fingertips, thanks to the Internet.
That Sunday we contacted Hope Foster Home and spoke with Dr. Hill. When Joyce received the twins, they were less than 2 kg (about 4 lbs.) and within a short period of time, were 10 kg (about 22 lbs.). Dr. Hill's daughter calls HFH "the fat baby farm" for good reason.
When the twins were seven months old, Dr. Hill heard two American surgeons were coming to China with a group called "Love without Boundaries" to fix cleft lips and cleft palates, but they would be in south China exclusively. Without any guarantees they would even be able to treat the girls, she drove 2500 km (each way) to the Guangzhou province.
That is like driving from Florida to Maine (or the equivalent of over 1500 miles) each way.
When the surgeons saw them they were amazed.
Unlike all the other children they were treating, these children were healthy, were normal weight and most of all they were happy. The surgeons (Dr. John Padilla a plastic surgeon from Beverly Hills and Dr. Lisa David, a cranial facial surgeon from Wake Forest Medical Center in NC) fell in love with them and made them the first two children to have their clefts repaired on the inaugural cleft mission trip conducted by LWB. Within days of finding out about the girls, we had the pleasure of speaking to both surgeons as well as the head of LWB. Indeed, Dr. David said she was trying to figure out a way she could hide them in her luggage! She is also the one who informed us about the rarity of their clefts. Tragically, Dr. Padilla died in a plane crash on November 10, 2004 and never was able to see the wonderful life change he made in our two girls lives. Although we never met him, except on the phone, we will never forget him and will look forward to shaking his hand and thanking him face to face when our days on earth are through.
What is in a name?
We decided to call the girls Reagan and Sydney and keep their Chinese names (Ya Yun and Ya Qiu) as their middle names. The names of our children have a very special beginning. When we were in China in June, 2004, former President Reagan passed away. I was told that it was Mr. Reagan that opened the door for Chinese American adoption in its present form. Prior to the Reagan era, Chinese American adoption was virtually nonexistent. In order to honor the man that made it possible for this adoption to even be possible, we named our first daughter Reagan Ya Yun White.
The second name was actually done for us! Both girls had received English names at Hope Foster Home – Carly (now Reagan) and Sydney. We decided to keep Sydney's name to remind us of the Australian connection (Linda Shum, the orphanage volunteer and Dr. Hill are both from Australia).
This would have never happened had we not been asked by our friends at the MDRT Foundation who encouraged us to go to China to build a playground for orphans! We will be forever grateful to the MDRT for introducing us to China and this phenomenal experience.
Below are two videos about the twins and Love Without Boundaries.
The first video is from 2006, where my family and I were interviewed on the surgery process for the twins.
The second video is from the 2014 MDRT meeting in Toronto when we were privileged to share our story with over 10,000 people in attendance.
If you would like to learn more about Love without Boundaries, click here.
- Donald F. White
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