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November is National Adoption Month: USCIS Assists Family Adopting Orphans in Need
If you ask Shawn and Sarah Basile, it was more than a simple twist of fate that led them to their second adopted daughter.
A few weeks before they were to complete the adoption, the Ukrainian child they wished to adopt became unavailable for adoption. The Basiles could choose to adopt one of two other children but one of them was, in the words of the Basiles' adoption service provider, "very sick." She would not make it if a family didn’t come for her soon.
When the Basiles met the girl they would call Mila, she was smaller than they even imagined. At seven months old, she was seven pounds - the size of a newborn. Her skin was nearly as blue as her eyes. She struggled to breath.
"She couldn't speak, as little as she was, her eyes locked onto me," Sarah recalled. "It was as if she was saying 'I've waited so long for you, I can’t hold on much longer. Please help me.'"
Mila, whose name means "miracle" in Ukrainian, was born with Down syndrome, congenital heart defects and airway defects. It wasn’t certain she’d survive long enough for the Basiles to get her treatment in the States.
Mila did survive. To the amazement of the orphanage staff, she gained three pounds with Sarah feeding her every day at the orphanage. USCIS expedited her adoption paperwork and shortly after her arrival in the U.S., Mila underwent two successful, major surgeries – one to fix her airways, the other to fix her heart.
Her doctors marveled that she had survived her first eight months of life in such terrible shape. Sarah said, "God held our precious girl in his arms until we could get to her and performed a miracle by sustaining her life. Had we gotten there only weeks later I doubt she would have still been alive."
Today, Mila is 31 pounds - bigger than most children her age. She is a healthy, bubbly 2 ½ year old. She loves to play with her older sister Zoya and younger sister Sofia, whom the family brought home from Ukraine this past Christmas Day.
All three of the Basiles’ daughters are from Ukraine and all three have Down syndrome. The Basiles learned about adopting children with special needs through Reece's Rainbow, an organization that advocates and finds families for orphans with Down syndrome and other special needs.
Their first daughter, Zoya, now 5 years old, had enriched their life in every way but they had not expected to go through the process again. The five weeks they had spent in Ukraine adopting her had taken an emotional toll.
However, as they had settled into their new life, memories of the children they had met at Zoya's orphanage and concern for those children's futures tugged at them. Nearly a year after bringing Zoya home, they readied their adoption paperwork.
They felt that same tug following Mila's adoption. Sofia, their third adopted daughter, had been one of two infants they had encountered at the orphanage during Mila’s adoption process.
"Many of the children in Eastern Europe who are born with Down syndrome, and other special needs, face a bleak outlook," Sarah said. "Their families are rarely able to provide the therapies and medical attention they need."
While each of the girls' adoption processes has been unique, there has been at least one constant. A USCIS Immigration Services Officer has been at the other end of the phone along the way. The Basiles worked with an officer in the non-Hague adoptions unit at the National Benefits Center in Lees Summit, Mo.
According to Sarah, the USCIS officer was a source of reassurance and good information while processing the Basiles’ adoption cases, especially as they expedited Mila's case.
"She was very responsive, constantly giving us updates,” Sarah said. “It felt like we were working as a team."
The Basiles thoughts are never far away from the children they have met in Ukrainian orphanages. This summer, Sarah and another adoptive mother are returning to Mila and Sofia’s former orphanage to bring supplies and work alongside the staff caring for children with special needs. She hopes to raise money to ship feeding bottles specially designed for children with breathing problems and Down syndrome. Additionally, she wants to use her time in Ukraine to “love and snuggle these children.”
"We’re trying to be realistic as to what we can handle," Sarah said of her family, "but we can’t pretend we don’t know what will happen to these children, once our eyes have been opened."