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20 Years of Hope: Emily

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While visiting an orphanage in southern China in 2021, LWB’s CEO and founder Amy Eldridge encountered an unforgettable 16-month old girl we called Emily.

In her book, “The Heart of Community,” Amy writes, She was lying flat on her back in an old metal crib, with a blanket covering her body. She was incredibly tiny. As I drew closer, the nanny uncovered the baby to show me that Emily had been born with not only a cleft lip but also missing one of her arms and both of her legs just below her hips. Honestly, the very first thought that immediately came to my mind was, ‘She has got to get out of here in order to survive.’

Baby girl with cleft lip and one arm in a baby seat

When we asked the orphanage director whether they had decided to file Emily’s adoption paperwork, I was thrilled to learn that her file had already been sent to the national government. No one had come forward yet, though, to choose Emily as their daughter.

We wanted to increase Emily’s chances for adoption through medical intervention, and thankfully LWB’s Medical Care Program had a cleft surgery team coming to China the very next month. We were able to move Emily to the location of our cleft surgery mission so that her cleft lip could be repaired.

Unfortunately, pre-op testing revealed that Emily had a previously undiagnosed heart defect. When a child is found to have any sort of heart condition on our cleft trips, we do not typically move forward with the lip repair until we can arrange for the heart defect to be healed. Since Emily had such a variety of extra conditions, however, the pediatric anesthesiologist on our team decided to move ahead with cleft surgery to hopefully improve her ability to eat, gain weight, and grow stronger.

Despite her cardiac issues, Emily’s lip repair went smoothly. The trip volunteers all agreed it was impossible not to fall in love with this petite, sweet girl. She liked to be propped up on her hospital bed in a sitting position so she could quietly observe everything happening on the ward. She also loved having people stop by to smile and speak to her, reaching out her hand to grab onto their finger or an offered toy.

Man holding a baby in a yellow sleeper 20 Years of Hope Emily

Thankfully, Emily’s orphanage director agreed to have her moved to our China Healing Home known as Heartbridge (in partnership with Hope Foster Home, outside of Beijing) in preparation for her open-heart surgery which we had scheduled in three months’ time.

Toddler girl in red pants being held in the air

Emily continued to show everyone that she had a colossal inner strength, and this pint-sized girl sailed through her cardiac surgery.

Following her operation, Emily’s energy level increased dramatically. Her healing home nannies described her as an extremely sweet but strong-willed little princess. She loved to be cuddled and wasn’t about to let her missing limbs slow her down in any way. When she wanted to reach for a toy or her nanny, she would simply roll across the floor…and she didn’t want any help doing so, thank you very much!

Smiling baby girl with one arm lying on floor

At around the same time as her heart surgery, a family in the U.S. saw Emily’s photo and requested to view her adoption file.

Baby girl smiling in a walker wearing pink

When a family is given an adoption file to consider, It is fairly standard practice for them to send the file to medical experts to gather opinions on a child’s particular needs. The family looking at Emily’s file sent it to four separate physicians, and all four doctors told the family they should NOT move forward to bring her home. They said Emily would never move, never talk – essentially, she would never be the least bit independent.

The mom in the U.S. just kept looking at Emily’s little face, however, and she made a request to the orphanage for a video clip of the baby which showed her interacting with a nanny. One physician who viewed the video said Emily’s reactions were no different than those of Pavlov’s dogs, and we all had to smile when the mom said she was ready to climb through the telephone wire to throttle the doctor.

She told us later that she could see the determination in Emily’s eyes, even if the doctors couldn’t. “We knew God had planted her deep in our hearts and decided that if she had been born to us, we would have done everything possible to give her the best life. God knew…and I’m so glad we listened.”

Toddler in a walker wearing her hair in a pigtail

Thank goodness for those listening ears and hearts! Emily was adopted in December 2012, and we have been delighted to receive multiple updates on her over the years.

About a year after adoption, we learned that a cardiologist had given an enthusiastic “thumbs-up” on Emily’s heart repair that had taken place in China. She had begun speech therapy, and had been fitted for – and was learning to use – a double leg prosthesis.

Little girl in pink hugging two prosthetic legs

Five years down the road, we learned that Emily had a new bike and was able to ride it around the neighborhood! She also enjoyed playing with her brothers, hopping on the trampoline, and swimming. She had taken up playing the piano (quite well, even using her little arm!), and she enjoyed drawing, coloring, and painting. She was also a big help in the kitchen. In so many ways, Emily was a typical 10-year-old, interested in hairstyles and fashion.

Little girl with prosthetic legs wearing a blue and white dress

Just a few weeks ago, we received this update from Emily’s mother: It’s hard to believe that Emily has been home for nearly 11 years. She is such a joy and always has a happy disposition. Emily is involved in our church youth group and is getting excited to go to camp for the first time in January. She sings in the youth choir and periodically in the adult choir. She has been playing the piano for five years and plays very well considering she only has her left hand.

Emily is taking a break from piano lessons this year as she pursues her passion for ballet. She started taking ballet classes three years ago, after being told by so many dance studios that she couldn’t dance and they wouldn’t teach her. After moving out of state, we found that a lady in our new church was a dance instructor. She said, “Of course she can dance!” Emily started that year with one class, then two classes last year, with three classes this year.

The dance classes have greatly strengthened her legs and core. She uses “stubbies” for dancing, though she’d rather hop to get from one place to another when not at ballet.

Last summer we vacationed in the southwestern U.S. We drove Route 66 and visited many national parks. Her favorite was the Grand Canyon. We also drove up Pike’s Peak and rafted on the Arkansas River. She LOVED rafting! She’s looking forward to going again someday.

Young girl rafting wearing a bright yellow helmet and life jacket

Quoting Amy Eldridge from her book, “The Heart of Community”: Whenever I think of Emily, it’s impossible to not feel a sense of hope ignite again in my heart. Hope gives us strength and the belief that, if we refuse to give up, better things lie ahead. Emily went from lying in an orphanage crib to running on her prosthetic legs, adorned with silver sparkly shoes. Her remarkable progress was not only due to her own determination and grit but also because she had parents who adored her. Parents who would move mountains for her. It’s what every child deserves.

Teen girl wearing sunglasses and smiling while leaning against a pillar

Indeed, it is children like Emily who inspire our motto, “Every Child Counts.” THANK YOU for believing it, too!

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