Monday, August 11, 2014

When Love Isn't Enough: The Musser Family Tragedy- Part 1

Sixteen years ago, a baby was born in Bulgaria. At four months old, he was placed in an orphanage.   The orphanage young Tommy was placed at was hell on Earth.  The director "modified" the foods fed to the children to prevent them from growing normally.  By doing this, the director kept the children permanently in the youngest/weakest group of the orphanage where the orphanage received the most funds for the children.  Tommy was listed at age 15 as "Male child at 15 years of age, with the following diagnoses: Infantile Cerebral Palsy – Hypotonic form; Severe lagging behind in the physical and neuro-psychical development; Severe protein-caloric malnutrition – unspecified; Ectopic [undescended] testicle – condition after surgery for correction."  Tommy was slowly dying - and time was running out.  If he was not adopted by the time he turned sixteen in the spring of 2013, he would be considered an adult in his home country, moved to an adult institution, and be ineligible for adoption domestically or internationally.

Meanwhile in the United States:

Joe and Susanna Musser had nine biological children.  Their tenth child, a little girl named Verity, was born with Down Syndrome in 2010.  As the family watched Verity grow and develop, they began to consider adopting more children with special needs.  They saw a video about children who were barely surviving in a Bulgarian orphanage.  After completing the multiple steps required to adopt, the Musser family brought home Katie in October of 2011.  From the unconscionable neglect she had suffered at the orphanage, Katie was diagnosed with  "scurvy, severe anemia, atrophic skin, muscle wasting, severe osteoporosis, and multiple spinal compression fractures due to the severe protein-energy malnutrition she had suffered all her life. "

Verity, on the left, is 17 months old.  Katie, on the right, is nine YEARS old.

With proper nutrition and intensive therapy, Katie has thrived and is much healthier, although her body and intellectual development have been permanently damaged from the years of neglect.
A year later, Katie, now 10, had out-grown Verity who is around 3.

Now, to adopt Katie, the Musser family went through the steps required of any adoptive family.  A home study was conducted.  Family finances were studied.  Background checks and medical examinations of the parents were completed.  To adopt a child, a family must make at least 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.  Since their family was so large, you add $5,075 for each additional person to reach the family size including the adopted child.  In a domestic adoption, families need to produce three years worth of financial evidence showing income at or above the 125% guideline.  For reasons that are never explained, the agency that the Musser family used either only used income verification for one year which was a higher than average year.

While the Mussers' home-schooled most of their family, they sensibly recognized that Katie needed more than they alone could provide and sent her to a good program in the local school system and acted as healthy advocates for her.

Meanwhile, Susanna found out about Tommy before June 15, 2012.  Orignally, they hoped to adopt Tommy, but would not make the financial requirements that year. In her words, "  Our income last year was significantly lower than the stated income requirement for a family of our size.  Not even within sight of that golden number".  Since Tommy's situation was critical, Susanna used her blog to publicize Tommy's plight since he was going to age out of adoption in less than one year.

  In the meantime, she worked with the agency and the government to see if there was any way the Musser family could adopt Tommy.

  • The government agency suggested applying the value of their home, cars, savings and investments to boost their "income" to the required levels.
  •  They asked their church leaders and friends for input on if the family was taking on too much by adopting Tommy.  Their community gave their blessing.  
  • The agency with whom they were working for this adoption did not require the same level of pre-screening as the previous agency ("(no psychologist visit, letter of employment, or local police clearance, for instance), and our home study doesn’t have to be written from scratch for Tommy") (The agency that handled Tommy's adoption is About a Child)
She also adapted her family's way of life.
  • She hired "mother's helpers" to assist her in housework and became comfortable with home visits from therapists.
 On June 29,2012, Susanna was able to announce that they would be able to adopt Tommy.
  • The family reached out to a social worker who came from a large family with multiple special needs adopted children who completed their home study.  The family had needed to do two home studies to adopt Katie since one agency refused to approve them due to family size.
  • Their medical and mental competence was assured by their family doctor.
  • Susanna traveled overseas to fulfill the requirements of Tommy's home country while very pregnant and with a severely sprained ankle
  • She and a physical therapist friend assess Tommy's actual level of development and teach the staff safer ways to lift children with fragile bones, how to use a gait trainer and bring lots of badly needed supplies.
A family picture was taken in March 2013 with a caption of the ages of their children so far:
March 2013 001
This picture was taken at the end of March, 2013.   Back, left to right-Joseph, 19, holding Katie, 11, Joshua, 16, Joe, holding Stephen, 4 1/2, Susanna, holding Verity, 2 1/2, Daniel, 17 1/2, and Laura, 13 1/2
Middle-Jane, 11
Front, left to right-John Michael, 7 1/2, James, 6, and Peter, 6 

Tommy's adoption went through on April 9th, 2013 becoming their twelfth child and their third child with developmental delays.

Their 13th son, Benjamin was born on or around April 29th, 2013.

Tommy arrived home on June 17, 2013.

To visualize the ages of the children more easily at the time Benjamin was born (chronologically)

  • Joseph (19)
  •  Daniel (17.5)
  • Joshua (16)
  • Tommy (16 - developmentally delayed to toddlerhood; has a seizure disorder)
  • Laura (13)
  • Jane (11)
  •  Katie (11 - developmentally delayed to around age 2)
  •  John Michael (7.5),
  • James (6)
  • Peter (6)
  • Stephen (4.5)
  • Verity (2.5 - minor developmental delays)
  • Benjamin (newborn)
Or to quote Susanna "We have four booster seats and four car seats in our big van. That’s eight little people who are developmentally age seven and under."

A year later, Susanna was left alone with eight little ones who were at the developmental age of eight or below.  Somehow, Tommy was left unattended for a period of time while he was in the bathtub.  Tommy drowned. With Tommy's developmental age and seizure disorder, he was at high risk for drowning in a very short period time in a small amount of water.

In my next post, I'll look at the level of stress and exhaustion Susanna Musser was under prior to Tommy's accidental death.

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