Pleven Orphanage

From Susanna's blog, The Blessing of Verity.
The following are hastily-edited translations of some of the news articles in major newspapers in Bulgaria from the beginning of April 2012, when the story of the Pleven orphanage went public.
(on the photo at the left bottom, unidentified child from the sixth floor; on the photo at the top right, Veronica now; on the photo at the bottom right, Veronica before)
18 children died over a year and a half
Babies and young children are being left hungry for days, lie in urine without having their diapers changed for twenty-four hours, due to which most of them are severely ill.  Over a year and a half, 18 children have died, as evidenced by a Report of the CPA. This provoked an inspection by the Minister of Health Dessislava Atanassova.  Yesterday she commented that she left there crying.
At the moment, 154 children live in the institution. After the inspection, Ms. Atanassova found out that, obviously, the personnel had known about her visit, as the children were all dressed up nicely, the sheets were changed and the toys were new.  The stench of urine, however, made a huge impression.
“While I walked through the rooms and watched the children, I cried. After that, I got mad and was greatly upset that they were doing wrong things,” the health minister said. She made a hint that probably serious financial misuses had been done in the institution, as any accountability was lacking.
4 kilograms and 850 grams. That’s how much the 9 year old Veronica weighed on November 14, 2011. That was her last day in Home For Medical and Social Care for Children in Pleven which terrified the health minister and CPA. She couldn’t pull up to a sitting or standing position and only was lying down. Today, 5 months later, in the USA, in Pennsylvania, she is already weighing 12 kilograms and has a chance for life.
This can clearly be seen from two photographs. The first was taken in the home for medical and social care last year, and the second is in the home of her new American family.
“I think that the photos speak for themselves enough and the words are not needed. The difference is striking and clearly shows what it means for a child to be raised in an institution,” declared Antonia Vladimirova, Director of Dreams Foundation, which facilitates international adoptions. She personally was helping the family Joe and Susanna Musser to adopt the Bulgarian orphan who has Down syndrome.
The Chance
The chance for a new life for Veronica came last November. After [three] months of adoption procedure, Susanna arrived in Pleven to pick her up.  [Three months before,] the American was in shock at the look of the child in real life and by the sight of the other children sharing the same ward with her future daughter on the sixth floor, where the orphans with the severest diseases are placed. Veronica was taken to Tokuda Hospital to be stabilized for two days…they took off by a plane to the USA…from the airport…she was placed in the Children’s [Hospital] in Philadelphia.
Thorough tests were done and they established that the child was with severe anemia due to the malnutrition, as well as advanced osteoporosis, and bones that had been broken in the past, together with lack of Vitamin D.  All this together with severe mental and physical lagging behind.
After only 4 months Veronica is already different.
So that you can imagine the difference, I will tell you that in Bulgaria she couldn’t sit up [properly]. She didn’t talk, only cried or, more correctly, was moaning. Now you can see her at the picture that she sits up. Soon she will be up besides a walker. She is still with a feeding tube but she eats normal food and very recently she said her first word “mamma.” All this after only 4 months, Vladimirova tells further. Now the child lives in Pennsylvania. Her adoptive parents have ten more children, the last of whom is with Down syndrome…she inspired them to adopt such a child. The mother is a homemaker and has entirely devoted herself to care for her children.
After the admittance of Veronica in Tokuda, from the hospital they were so shocked that they decided to visit the orphanage in Pleven. The specialists chose another 8 children to be admitted in the hospital.
“We found out that the children need attention and decided that we would go and see them. We coordinated the idea with the CPA and went,” Prof. Marusia Lilova, Chief of the Pediatric Clinic at Tokuda Hospital, said for the Telegraph. Then several children were taken for treatment to Tokuda. To a question whether it was established that the children were malnourished, Prof. Lilova stated that she didn’t want to comment.
The rest
154 children totally are being raised in the orphanage in Pleven. 98 of them are with severe disabilities and most of them don’t move from their cribs. For now, only [18] of the children will have Veronica’s chance.  At the moment, adoption procedures for them are pending.

(Photos: Top: at 11 years old Vesselina looks like a 3 month old baby; the teenager Plamenka looks like an infant
Bottom:  Veronica 6 months ago and now as Katie Musser)

“Holocaust”  That is how the chief of Dreams Foundation, Antonia Vladimirova, summarizes the care for the abandoned sick children in Bulgaria. And “Auschwitz” is the name she has given to the Home for Medical and Social Care for Children (HMSCC) in Pleven. On Friday, the institution entered the media with a label “Mogilino-2″ after the health minister Dessisslava Atanassova visited it suddenly and 16 year old children weighing 9 kilograms and eating from bottles met her.
Boriss Veltchev starts dealing with the child skeletons in Pleven
Prosecutors in Mogilino-2
Malnutrition, osteoporosis and broken bones shock the Tokuda doctors
For Antonia Vladimirova, the Pleven Auschwitz turned into her cause on August 15, 2011. Then the head of the Dreams Foundation went into the orphanage as a lawful representative of the Americans Joseph and Susanna Musser, who wanted to adopt the 9 year old Veronica. The little girl was on the 6th floor, where actually the severest cases are placed. From the very door, the stench that hit us was unbearable, Vladimirova recalls.
Stink of faeces, urine, acetone and pus
In the rooms of the children, the windows are not opened. The little ones [cribs] are stuffed 8 in a [room] 4 meters by 3 meters. They are not showered, the diapers are soaked and they lie in their vomit. The children are prisoners in their cribs. They move only when their diapers are changed once each 24 hours, Antonia adds. From the orphanage they explained to her that this happens once a day as the diapers are expensive and they can’t afford to change the children more often. They pick up the child under the armpit, lift him/her in the air, and throw him/her on the board for change of the diapers. Several lightning, rough movements follow, without any cleaning or treatment of the rashes and the wounds from the soaked diapers. The child again is lifted in the same way and thrown in the crib, Antonia continues her terrifying story.
Antonia, however, is shocked with something else–the feeding of the children. The little ones receive
a beer bottle with a nipple on the top,
with an opening of 1 cm.  And as they are in lying position, without being set upright at least a little, they receive the nipple and start choking and the liquid pours down, explains Vladimirova. The children who can feed themselves, receive a mess-tin of soup with crumbled bread mixed with a spoon of [broth?] without meat.  The children are fed [in a matter of seconds] and then everything is taken away, goes on Antonia.
Thanks to the Musser family, Veronica is saved from Auschwitz. Today she lives in Pennsylvania and her name is Katerina Hope Musser. After being picked up from the orphanage, the 9 year old miss went to the capital hospital Tokuda, and the doctors there slipped into a shock at the little one’s weight of 4,850 kg.  5 months later Veronica, already Katerina Hope, is 12 kg.
From August till now, 18 more children from the ill-famous orphanage in Pleven are at different stages of adoption procedure by families from the USA. Two of them are the 11 year old Vesselina (weight at the moment 5,650 kg and height 76 cm), and almost 16 year old Plamenka (weight 8,600 kg and height 88 cm) who eats from a bottle. Both of them, as well as 6 other children from the orphanage, were treated in Tokuda. In all eight children, besides malnutrition and osteoporosis, old, already healed broken bones, were established. Vesselina even has displacements of vertebrae, recalls Antonia. And continues on to say that after only 10 days in the hospital the little patients gained 2 kilograms each.
The doors are closed for new little ones
174 people take care of 165 children; sanctions are at hand
The Agency for Social Support stops the placement of children from the whole country in the orphanage in Pleven. Only in extreme cases babies from Pleven and Lovetch will be admitted.
This is the biggest orphanage in Bulgaria and, at the moment, 165 children are placed there.   [The healthiest, mobile children over the age of 3 years old have already been transferred to other institutions.]  The personnel are 174 people, but only 1/3 of them remain on each shift. All of the children should be no older than 3 years of age. However, for a long time, no one has taken measures for the older children to be moved to other specialized institutions.  Among them are children with disabilities who have not been requested for adoption or foster care.
External specialists in nutrition and intensive interaction shall be appointed in the orphanage. For each child a specific plan shall be developed, according to his/her own needs, explained Kalin Kamenov. They will train the personnel how to take care of the children. Experts will work with the children with disabilities in the orphanage, so that they receive individual care and medical help.
For the end of April, a competition for appointment of a new director of the orphanage has been planned. Four months ago, the long-standing director Irzhina Kostova was fired after the signal of CPA.  By this moment, the orphanage has been under a temporarily appointed director. Most probably there will be more disciplinary sanctions, stipulates Kamenov. We hope that the new management shall implement quality reorganization in the operation of the orphanage, he declared.
Yesterday, for the Standard, the health minister Dessislava Atanassova revealed that, since documents for donations and reports for food products are lacking, the investigators had sealed the storage premises.

From Susanna at the Blessing of Verity, posted October 1, 2012.  This is in Susanna's words about her journey of adoption that uncovered the Pleven orphanage's conditions. 

As requested long ago, here is a summary of the story of Katie’s adoption~

We are an ordinary homeschooling family of ordinary means with eleven children and an extraordinary God.
In February of 2010, halfway through my pregnancy with our tenth child, we found out that she would most likely be born with Down syndrome and a severe heart defect. I began blogging a few days later, compelled by God to write down the story as He would tell it. Before this, both my husband and I were nearly completely ignorant about people with special needs, including Down syndrome. But by the time our daughter Verity was born several months later, from all we had already learned, we were excited to have been hand-picked by God for this special child.

Having Verity was the first transformative doorway we walked through on this new journey.
I continued to blog after Verity was born in June of 2010, through her urgent open heart surgery at five weeks of age and beyond.  Now we added many photos of our sweet little one, who had completely charmed us with her bright-eyed spunky personality!

Incredibly, we began to hear from blog readers whose hearts were opened to adopt a child with Down syndrome through reading Verity’s story. When Verity was four months old, and I was questioning whether I should continue to put the time into blogging, I heard from a friend who said that she and her husband were considering domestic adoption of a child with Down syndrome. She asked me to recommend reading for her to prepare for the needs of an adopted child with Down syndrome.
That October night in 2010, I was researching online for that friend, never suspecting how God would use it to completely change the course of our family’s life. I came across a short Youtube clip called, “The Dark Side of Serbian Mental Institutions.”
That five minute video was the second transformative doorway we walked through.
My husband and I looked at one another after watching the video.  As our eyes met, we knew that we would adopt a child like that one day if God opened the door, and we knew that God could open the door, no matter how impossible it might look to humans.
We learned that all across Eastern Europe, children born with special needs are routinely put into orphanages at birth.  Then at some point, usually between the ages of 4 and 8 years old, depending on the child and the country, they are transferred to adult mental institutions.  These are places that aren’t fit for a dog, let alone an extra needy and vulnerable child. The youngest child we have heard of being transferred to an adult mental institution was seventeen months old. We learned that about 80% of the children die within their first year of transfer to one of these grim institutions, and if their diagnosis is Down syndrome, that percentage rises as high as 95%.
We also learned that children who are severely neglected and deprived of human contact stop producing human growth hormone. They simply stop growing.
We learned that the children sent to adult mental institutions often spend all their time in their beds or if they are strong enough, they sit all day in one small room with nothing to do, a room crowded with others who are rocking and groaning.
They receive poor nourishment.
They often receive only one diaper change a day if that.
They learn not to cry, since nobody ever comes to help them.
They are sometimes drugged and/or tied to their beds to keep them easier to care for or to prevent them from harming themselves out of sheer insane boredom and attempting to make themselves feel something at all.

When they die, nobody mourns their death—just one less mouth to feed and diaper to change.
There was a little girl on the Serbia video who cut into our hearts. She was a little girl with Down syndrome, looking at us with her almond-shaped eyes through the bars of her crib.
Will I ever be able to see her in my mind’s eye and repeat these words without crying?
“Katerina is nine. She has Down syndrome,” the speaker said.
It was as if we were seeing our own flesh, our own little daughter Verity, lying there neglected and unloved. We couldn’t imagine our small, vulnerable, much-beloved daughter destined to life imprisonment in the nightmare of an Eastern European adult mental institution. Even the small care and comfort that children receive in a baby house, where oftentimes the staff really do care for the children as best they can, will all be gone the day they are placed in the back seat of a car, driven to the institution, have their heads shaved, and are put into their bed, nameless, voiceless, helpless, and hopeless.
Shortly after God opened our eyes to the fact that children with special needs just like Verity were being thrown out for the trash all across Eastern Europe, and that He was compelling His people to do something about it, He began doing a series of miracles before our eyes. Before two months had passed, He had placed us in a position that made us financially qualify to adopt. From that point on, He moved mountain after mountain to enable us to bring Katie home as our daughter.
Before this, God had made it clear that I was to pick up the pencil and write what He was doing. Now it seemed to us that He picked us up as though we were the pencils, and continued to tell the story using our lives.
When we began the adoption process, we understood that this was clearly God’s business, and we placed our complete trust in Him to bring it about if that was His will. We knew that no matter how it may appear to us, nothing is impossible with God. We were outside the box in many areas, including the size of our family, our income, our small house, and our membership in Samaritan Ministries International rather than carrying typical health insurance.
We knew that to get through the process, God would have to move, and that it would otherwise be impossible. In other words, there was no possible way we could adopt Katie if God didn’t want us to.  There are always myriads of ways for Him to close the adoption door, and for us, some of those possible ways were obvious.  He was literally our only hope.
And so the adoption proceeded, glory to God!  Every impossible obstacle toppled before Him, very often in dramatic, heart-stopping, last-minute ways.  We experienced the reality that finances, timing, and the decisions of man are all under His control.
Because of our large family, we were a good fit for a Bulgaria adoption, since they don’t have limitations on family size. We chose an agency with a Bulgaria program and found our daughter Katie on their waiting children listing.
Her file said that she was very small, still almost as small as a baby, and did not have any skills, although she was almost nine years old.  We understood that this meant that she had been neglected and deprived of the opportunity to bond and interact with anyone, or to learn from them. We knew that she might have feeding issues, very common in children with Down syndrome, but without someone to work with her and teach her to eat properly, she might not be getting enough food. We saw that her hair was thin, another sign of malnutrition.  We were told that her orphanage was in a poor area of Bulgaria.  We were aware that she could possibly have a heart condition which was impacting her ability to grow. We knew it was possible her photos and the information in her file were outdated, and that she may have grown and progressed since then.  We learned that internationally adopted children may have parasites which could cause a failure to thrive.
There was a lot we didn’t know.  But one thing we did know.  We as a family could give this baby bird what she had lacked for so many years and needed most–love, food, home, and family. We loved her as if she was already ours and committed to adopt her in February of 2011. We named her Katerina Hope. “Katerina” for the girl on the Serbia video, and “Hope” for the children she would leave behind her when she came home.
The next month, in March of 2011, through an amazing providence of God, we made contact with a missionary couple in Sofia, Bulgaria.  They were willing to help us by visiting Katie’s orphanage and taking a large donation from friends in the United States.  Through this missionary, we received photos and videos of Katie and some of the other children on her floor.
For me, this was the third transformative doorway.
As I looked through the photos, my heart was unexpectedly peaceful for Katie, knowing she had a family who loved her and was coming for her.

She appeared to be doing better since she had received a baba.  We found out later that this was true.  She weighed 7 pounds at age 7, before she received her baba, and was not expected to live.
But the other children!
How would I ever be able to walk out of the orphanage and leave the other children behind, alone, invisible, unwanted, helpless?
As a family, we began to pray that God would show us a way to help the rest of the children with special needs in Katie’s orphanage to be adopted.  We had no idea what this would mean.  Nevertheless, we knew that our God could do anything, so we continued to pray this for months, until He answered by showing us a way.
A Bulgaria adoption requires two trips of about a week each, normally separated by four to six months of legal process, during which time the adoption is finalized in court in Bulgaria in the parents’ absence.
I traveled alone to meet Katie in mid-August, 2011.
What we didn’t know until the day I arrived in Bulgaria was that our attorney had never been to this particular baby house.
When I held Katie in my arms for the first time, I knew the shock of holding a starving child. My baby was nine years old, but her body was tiny and frail, the size of a skeletal nine to twelve month old.

The staff’s casual explanation was that they fed the children well, but that it was their disabilities that caused their condition. It was obvious to me that this was not true.  I knew that Down syndrome and cerebral palsy do not cause ten and twelve year old children to be the size of babies and toddlers.  I knew that what we were seeing was the result of criminal profound neglect and deliberate underfeeding.
I was allowed to feed Katie every day with a heavy glass beer bottle with a huge hole cut into the nipple, causing the smelly liquid inside to run freely down her throat so fast she had to gulp to keep up with it.

The contents appeared to be a watered-down flour gravy with other ingredients occasionally added to it.  We were to find out later that many of the deaths were caused by this inhumane feeding method–the children’s bottles were propped, and they aspirated fluid and died by asphyxiation, alone in their beds.
Our attorney had been facilitating special needs adoption for many years.  She immediately saw the huge contrast between the Pleven baby house and so many others she had worked with.  She had met many directors who deeply cared about the children under their care and did their very best to stretch limited resources and make the caregivers do their job right.  In Bulgaria, orphanage directors must be either pediatricians or family practice physicians.  The Pleven orphanage was like an adult mental institution, our attorney told me.  The director was the coldest and most detached director she had ever met, and refused to meet our eyes.
That same day, our attorney called an international human rights organization to report the orphanage, and they promised to investigate. I continued to blog under our attorney’s oversight, and unbeknownst to me, God used that to quickly spread the word far and wide about what was happening.  Thousands of people began to pray, and God began moving hearts to want to adopt the other children there who were also in poor condition.
When I met with the director that Monday morning, just before meeting Katie for the first time, I told her that we cared about more of the children there than just our girl.  I asked her what needed to happen for the rest of the children with special needs to be made available for adoption.  I asked what we could do to help make that happen.  She coldly answered that it was impossible, that all had already been done that could be done, and she said it without meeting our eyes.
But two days later, with thousands of people now praying that God would break open the doors of the orphanage, the director came to our attorney and miraculously offered to give her the files of the rest of the children with Down syndrome in the orphanage.  After she walked away, we praised God with tears in our eyes!  Unbelievable!
The next day, the director came to our attorney again, and this time offered to give her the files of all the children with special needs in the whole orphanage.
The director had no idea that she was doing this unprecedented thing as a direct answer to thousands of fervent prayers.  But the doors were now breaking open.  The files began to be processed and children began to be made available, one, two, or three at a time, slowly over the next months, and families began to step forward to adopt them.
From the moment we reached our hotel after that first visit to the Pleven orphanage, Katie’s adoption began to be expedited.
The week we went to pick up Katie exactly three months later, we found out that the Pleven orphanage had been investigated by the human rights organization in September, the month after I had been there myself.
We began to hear more and more details about the wrongdoing of the Pleven orphanage staff.
The director, who had been in place since the Soviet era, and her daughter, who was the head social worker in the orphanage, had an arrangement set up that tidily benefited themselves.
They did not see to it that every child was properly registered for adoption, as should legally happen when they enter the orphanage.
The director solicited funds for improvements that did not benefit the children but did raise her own pension.
She was misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of funds and changing donation records to cover it up or failing to record donations at all.
The children were indeed being deliberately underfed, especially the children with disabilities, of whom there were many.  The children were kept small so that they would not be transferred along with their government stipend to other institutions.  This enabled the director to amass a large number of children, necessitating a large staff.  This baby house for children ages birth to three years old was housing children up to the age of adulthood, little like babies and toddlers.
Underfeeding the children also kept them conveniently tiny, lethargic, and easy to carry across the room by one arm.
Some of the children were never taken from their beds.  Many of them spent nearly all their time in bed, and were taken out for a few hours a week by one of the babas, or grannies, local older women who were paid a small sum to come in and hold the child they were matched with.  The baba program was begun just a few years earlier, so all the older children had spent most of their life trapped inside their bed.
The children received one diaper change a day, if any, and sometimes were not changed or fed over the weekend.  Many of the children had terrible diaper rash, sometimes suffering from one raw, open wound in their whole diaper area.
There were children like living skeletons on the top floor where Katie and the other very disabled children were kept.  She was the first child to be adopted from the top floor of the Pleven orphanage, the floor for children labeled, “Malformations.”
Katie was 9 1/2 years old, was 29 inches long, and weighed 10 pounds and 9 ounces when we took her out of the Pleven orphanage in mid-November of 2011.  A twelve month sleeper was too large on her, and she wore a size 1 diaper.
Katie with her new Mama, struck with wonder at the privilege of receiving this long-hoped-for child~

We picked her up on a Monday and reached the United States that Saturday night.  Katie had gained half a pound in five days, and weighed more than 11 pounds for the first time in her life.
The night we picked her up from the orphanage, however, and were now back in our hotel room in Sofia, Katie stopped eating.  Through various kind Providences, we ended up seeing the top pediatrician in Bulgaria in the best hospital in Bulgaria.  This specialist and the other medical staff of the Tokuda Hospital who saw Katie were profoundly shaken and ashamed that this had taken place in their country.  They gave Katie gentle, compassionate care and charged us very little.  Katie spent a day and a half there to receive IV fluids and a naso-gastric tube.
The best food we had available to give her was my own milk, as I was still pumping for Verity.

Once we reached the United States with Katie that weekend, we took her to the hospital, where she was directly admitted to the PICU for nutritional rehabilitation as had been previously arranged by Dr. Friedman, our dedicated international adoption clinic doctor.
Here she is saying goodbye to Katie the day before we took her home.

The process of nutritional rehabilitation had to be accomplished carefully, as Katie was at high risk of developing something called re-feeding syndrome, which is a metabolic cascade leading to sudden death that can occur in people who are given too much good nutrition too quickly after being in starvation mode.

Katie came home 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.
She spent twelve days in the PICU, during which time I stayed by her side as much as possible.  Was saw her progress on her long journey toward bonding with me.

In a few short months at home with us, she progressed from a being a lethargic, frightened, dehydrated, starving, 9 1/2 year old infant orphan at a 0-3 month old developmental level, who couldn’t hold her own head upright for more than a minute, had never touched a toy to her palm or borne her own weight on her feet…

…to being a healing, thriving, growing, progressing, well-loved daughter and sister in our family.  Her family.

Katie is now over 34 inches long and weighs over 30 pounds.
She has learned to enjoy being touched, moved, and held.  She is now tolerating and even seeking out more eye contact than ever before.  She is bonding strongly to me and the rest of her family.
She has learned to say, “Mama,” and a few other functional words, and is currently expanding her vocalizations.
After wearing diapers for nearly ten years, Katie is almost completely toilet trained, although she is completely dependent on me to help her with the process.  She is able to tell me when she needs to use the toilet, and wait until I take her.
She has learned to move correctly from her belly to sitting, and can do a correct cross-pattern army crawl. She readily pulls up to her hands and knees.  She needs minimal prompting and support to pull herself up to standing.  She can stand upright with minimal support.
She went from being irritated at the sight of toys and attempting to bat them away with the back of her hand to learning to interact appropriately with toys when given lots of prompting and encouragement.
She went from being unable to suck or chew, to being able to drink thickened liquids from an open cup and lightly chewing and eating a very wide variety of soft solid foods.  She can feed herself some types of finger foods.
When Katie had been home for three weeks, we heard the good news that the director of the Pleven orphanage had been fired.  Over the next weeks, all the children over the age of three years old who were sufficiently healthy were moved to smaller and better orphanages.  No new children were sent to the Pleven baby house. Previously there had been approximately 250 children in the orphanage, and now there were approximately 150 children there.
I contacted the wonderful pediatrician who had seen Katie in Bulgaria to appeal to her for help, very concerned that well-meaning people might go into the orphanage and begin to feed the children better. We knew that this could throw some of them into re-feeding syndrome.  I asked her if there was any way she could supervise the process, and she promised to arrange to take a team from the Tokuda Hospital to the orphanage to assess the children.
Less than a month later, we found out some bad news.  The director of the Pleven baby house had declared that she intended to fight her charges in court, and gotten herself another position at the orphanage–Head of Human Resources.  As a result, nothing had changed in the orphanage.
Then God intervened again.  We received word that one of the other tiny, malnourished children who was being adopted from the top floor had lost the will to live and was refusing to eat or drink.  We contacted the Tokuda pediatrician with another appeal for help.
After considerable resistance from the orphanage, the pediatrician took that little girl back to Tokuda, along with two more extremely malnourished children who were being adopted.  They were taken safely through the process of nutritional rehabilitation and given lots of love and affection.  All three gained some weight.
Not long afterward, this Tokuda pediatrician kept her promise and took a team into the Pleven orphanage and assessed every child there.  Rampant profound medical neglect was discovered. Large numbers of the children needed various tests, procedures, and surgeries. Three children at a time have been admitted to the Tokuda Hospital since early spring, and that is still ongoing.  Because of this intervention, none of the rest of the children adopted from Pleven will need to go through the process of nutritional rehabilitation that Katie did when we brought her home.
The government of Bulgaria had to become involved to get the orphanage to cooperate with all this.  They became angry when they found out that the conditions for the children had not changed because the former director was still in power. They sent the heads of the Ministry of Health and the Child Protection Agency to do a surprise investigation of the Pleven orphanage, and asked our attorney to cooperate in going public with the whole story, including Katie’s story.
So Katie ended up on the front page of all the major newspapers in Bulgaria, the only child in the world who could prove the orphanage staff wrong when they blamed the children’s extreme malnutrition on their inability to grow due to their disabilities.

The old director was completely removed shortly thereafter.  The new director who was named is an answer to thousands of prayers. Her task is monumentally difficult, but she cares about the children and is trying to change the way things are done in order to provide better care for them.
A few other children from Pleven are now all the way home with their families, growing and thriving.  More children are still in the process of being adopted.  Some of them are available for adoption, waiting for their families to step forward with love, faith, and courage to do whatever it takes to bring them home.  And there are some children still waiting to be made available for adoption.
From the time I first met Katie, over 134,000 individuals have read her story on our blog. We prayed that God would use Katie’s adoption to show Himself for who He really is, and He has answered that prayer. Many have given Him praise for the great things He has done! Some have trusted Christ for salvation after coming face to face with the reality of who He is. Many hundreds of people have written to tell us that God has used our family’s story to completely transform their way of thinking, and many of them have proceeded to adopt their own precious children with special needs from Eastern Europe, including children from Pleven.  People have prayed, given to funds for medical care at the Tokuda Hospital for the children and for more nurses and grannies for the orphanage, and have supported families who are adopting the children.
When we consider all God has done and is still doing through Katie’s story, we have such a strong and tangible sense that it doesn’t really have to do with us.  He could have chosen anybody to play the role He asked of us.  We pray, and act, and write, and love, but we have no ability to make the things happen that we have seen God do.  God is the One who is taking the prayer, the action, the writing, and the loving, and doing whatever He wants to do with it to accomplish His good purposes.  When we think about this, it’s too much to take in.  We are on our faces before Him!
God has shown Himself to be our great Provider by meeting every need that we have had for Katie, from thousands of dollars’ worth of adaptive equipment, to having every drop of her formula given to us, to a care fund started by a friend and given to by many to help us pay for extra expenses we have for Katie. The list goes on and on and on.
What we have seen during the past year and a half in our family as well as in other adoptive families who love the Lord shows that the following passage is just as true today as it was thousands of years ago when it was first written:
“Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?

Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you;
The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’“If you take away the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, 
If you extend your soul to the hungry
And satisfy the afflicted soul,
Then your light shall dawn in the darkness,
And your darkness shall be as the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
And satisfy your soul in drought,
And strengthen your bones;
You shall be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
Those from among you
Shall build the old waste places;
You shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach,
The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.”

[Disclaimer:  The conditions in the Pleven orphanage are the exception in Bulgaria.  The orphanages usually do their best to provide for the children and they are not like the one in Pleven.  The care is good compared to other Eastern European countries, as far as care in an orphanage can be good.  Not only did the Bulgarian governmental institutions not defend the personnel at the Pleven orphanage, but they took the appropriate steps to change things.]

From Shelley's Blog, Only 1 Mom, posted in March 2012.  Shelley Bedford is our social worker from About a Child adoption agency.   She details here the work of the Tokuda Hospital in Bulgaria to lend aid to the children of Pleven.  
Today, I met with Prof. Lilova at the Tokuda hospital in Sofia (yes, I’m in Bulgaria this week). She went to the orphanage in Pleven for 2 days last week to evaluate all the children. Based on her assessment, a minimum of THIRTY children will be hospitalized for medical treatment, many of them needing multiple surgeries.
30 children.
Some of them need surgeries. Others just need basic care like dental work for rotting teeth that cause infections in the body, and feeding through a monitored program to avoid health risks.
In addition to these medical needs, Prof. Lilova shared another finding with me. During her exams, she discovered that MANY of the children have had bones broken in their little bodies and then the broken bones were not treated, causing them to heal incorrectly. It is such a large number of children that have experienced this that the head of the Orthopedic Dept at Tokuda is taking a team to the orphanage to evaluate the children later this moth. Prof. Lilova expects that some of the children will need to come to the hospital for orthopedic surgery to reset bones that were broken and not set for proper healing.
Today, we discussed the legal aspects of providing the care to the children. In Bulgaria, everyone is covered under a government health care program. However, that program only covers basic medical care. It does not cover specialized surgeries and other procedures. So, all basic care of the children will be covered under their individual medical insurance. The stuff above and beyond that (for example, one child needs surgery for cataracts and the surgery is covered but the lens that are put in are not) will be covered by the funds raised in the Pleven medical fund. We will receive detailed receipts for each child’s care to show what was covered and what wasn’t. The money in the special bank account will only be used to pay these medical bills, transportation to get the children to/from the orphanage and to pay the expenses for the caretaker to stay at the hospital with the children.
Tokuda hospital is not benefiting financially in any way for treating the children, and Prof. Lilova  will not be supervising the use of the funds.
In addition to these things, Prof. Lilova also requested special formula to use to feed the children with. This formula will need to come from the US and the process for shipping it is being arranged now (verifying with the customs office here on how it needs to be done to not charge an additional fee). Diapers also need to be donated to the hospital for the children. Since diapers can be purchased in Sofia, monetary donations can be made to pay for the diapers, which will be purchased in Sofia and delivered to the hospital when each group of children check in.
More money is needed, folks.
THIRTY children need treatment and surgery. That is 30 kids that we know of right now. That number will increase after the orthopedic team visits. The need is great.
Today, 3 more children from Pleven were admitted into the hospital.

I was able to visit them and hold them.
Today, I held a 14 year old girl in my arms. At check in today, she weighed just 14 pounds. Her physical condition is absolutely heartbreaking. There is no other word for it. I held her and talked to her and prayed for her and all that I could think was…..I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry that you’ve been treated this way, that you’ve lived in this condition. I am sorry that you’ve endured this for all these years.
She wrapped her tiny little hand around my fingers and I looked at the skin and bones the size of a 3 month old. She squeezed my finger and smiled. She snuggled into my arms as I rocked her back and forth and talked softly into her ear. She looked up at me and smiled.
Today, I held that little girl in my arms and whispered in her ear that she is not forgotten, that her life matters and that she is finally going to have a voice.
I am asking…no, I am begging…each and every person that is reading this to
I have seen a lot in the 5 years that I’ve been advocating for orphans. I’ve brought my own child home in pitiful condition and wondered if he’d ever recover from the neglect he experienced. That is the driving force behind my advocacy.
But this…these kids…
Today, my heart broke all over again for orphans.
I’m all out of pretty words to say.
All that I can tell you is that today, I held a 14 year old girl in my arms and she is skin and bones the size of a 3 month old.
That should say it all.
These children need and deserve so much more.


  1. This is so sad. I am not in a position to adopt but would like to donate. Is the hospital still taking donations? Where would I send it?

    1. Donations to the Pleven Medical Fund can be made through the Eli project You can read more about updates at Pleven and the money will be used on my post titled 'Pleven Update' from October 29, 2012