Friday, March 19, 2010


I field scads of adoption-related calls; most want preschool children, younger than we typically have available to travel on our trips. But ten days ago, three little treasures were added, ages five and under, all available to travel last minute on our March Moscow trip. Two of them were born of HIV-positive mothers, and had tested positive themselves. Without much hope, I called a fussy family who’d been entreating me for a young girl for months. Even with my low expectations, their response floored me in its heartlessness.

“Why in the world would you put a child like that on the trip?” the speaker on the other end of the line interrupted, demanding caustically. It wasn’t a polite or genuine question; it was accusatory, implying some children were beneath our efforts. My chiding that I believe all children deserve families was countered by a snorted retort, “Well, I never heard of it before. They’re under a death sentence anyway.” I hung up, hackles raised not because of their disinterest, but because they’d deemed a little child unworthy not just of their family, but of any family at all.

Thankfully, the voice was as wrong as it was rude. Dr. Larry Gray, of the University of Chicago’s Comer Children’s Hospital International Adoption Clinic, says HIV in America has become just a chronic condition, something he deems more manageable than diabetes. He opines HIV patients nowadays should expect to get married, bear uninfected children, grow old, and see their grandchildren.

Yuliana and Artem, both five, are promisingly characterized by a teacher as “well developed”, a rare description for orphans so subject to institutional delays. Yuliana, especially, ought to have been snatched up; young girls are, by far, the most coveted children. Requests for them grossly outpace those for all other kids put together. Both children are adorable, but HIV-positive; even with a reduction in adoption fees, no family intends to visit them.

Project Hopeful (, a volunteer organization run by parents who have adopted children infected with HIV, is on a mission to find families for others like them. Traci, adoptive mother of five and awaiting the homecoming of a young girl with the virus, this afternoon filled me in about the risk of adopting HIV-positive children, and their long-term prognosis.

HIV is transmitted from mother to child during childbirth, through breastfeeding, through sexual intercourse, and through blood contact. Since the virus cannot survive air exposure, parents tending to wounds need take only the same precautions they’d take in dealing with any child’s wounds. Dr. Gray sites studies showing that even 5 cc of infected blood injected directly into a recipient’s veins still confer just a 5% chance of contracting the virus. A typical child patient, once assessed and stabilized, could expect quarterly doctor’s visits for monitoring, and would likely take medication to contain viral count. But properly monitored and medicated, infected kids have virtually no probability of developing full-blown AIDS. Disclosure of the condition is not legally required in most cases, not even to dentists, schools, or daycare providers.

Not understanding the disease, I worried about holding the kids’ hands next week, but was reassured as I found Traci’s optimism far more contagious than the virus. She has a friend with several children; while two are HIV-positive, Traci claims they are impossible to differentiate from the others. Other friends of hers, newly home with their children, blog about the adjustments; HIV is relegated to moot afterthought. Kids first, now sons and daughters, the HIV infections they hardly notice are minor details in the bigger picture of becoming a family, of giving a child with a need the home every child longs for.

I’ve puzzled at the injustice of life, how a child’s special need consigns him to an orphanage, and then conspires to keep him there. Right now, Yuliana and Artem need more Tracis, Dr. Grays, and Project Hopefuls; friends who act on their beliefs that being born with a special need can’t make you unworthy.
Yuliana and Artem need host families for the Moscow Lighthouse Project trip March 25-31.   Interested families need a valid passport in hand, and would need to apply for a visa by Saturday, March 20.  If you have even slight interest in going to Moscow to meet these children and sightsee with them, please call Becky at (616) 245-3216 as soon as possible.