On Tuesday, Terry and Carol Bouchard of Brookline went to Allegheny County Courthouse to finalize the adoption of their two daughters, Annie, 4, and Alice, 2.
Annie and Alice both have cystic fibrosis, a condition characterized by a buildup of mucus in the lungs and difficulty digesting food.
The two girls became the fifth and sixth children with special needs adopted by Mrs. Bouchard, a registered nurse, and her husband, a licensed practical nurse.
Children with cystic fibrosis must be given medicine before every meal or snack, or they will throw up or get diarrhea, depriving them of nutrients.
Mrs. Bouchard said that when Annie was born, she weighed 4 pounds, 4 ounces. At one year, she weighed only 61/2 pounds.
Annie and Alice were living in a home with four siblings. The house had no running water, no working toilet and no beds for the children, Mrs. Bouchard said. She said Annie was not getting a medicine that helps her metabolize food, and that a doctor told her Annie was days from death.
Annie came to the Bouchards needing oxygen but now is much healthier and attends preschool.
The Bouchards' odyssey of adoption and foster parenting began with the adoption of Alex, now 12. When they saw Alex, then age 7, was in some ways becoming a "little adult" from not having other children to play with, they took in their first foster child.
Because of their medical knowledge, Allegheny County Children and Youth Services sent the Bouchards a number of special-needs foster children over the last five years, including some with severe diabetes and autism.
They have fostered 27 children.
Their second adopted son, Zack, had very low self-esteem when he came to the Bouchards' at age 9. He wouldn't even ride a bicycle, saying, "I can't."
"No one told him, 'you can,'" Mrs. Bouchard said.
Now, Zack is a confident 11-year-old who plays soccer and baseball and recently joined the Boy Scouts. He has been accepted to the Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy and will go there in sixth grade beginning next year.
Alex, 12, has been accepted to the Pittsburgh School For The Creative and Performing Arts and will start seventh grade there. This year, he studied tap, ballet and jazz dancing in classes offered by Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera. He also took a CLO acting class.
Both Alex and Zack have severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Mrs. Bouchard said. Most children with ADHD are very smart and creative but, without treatment, can't sit still long enough to demonstrate their abilities, she said.
Another Bouchard child, Lexie, 10, has osteogenesis imperfecta, commonly known as brittle bone disease, which makes bones very fragile.
When she came to live with the Bouchards at age 7, Lexie weighed 17 pounds, wore clothing sized for an 18-month-old toddler and was in a wheelchair. Now she weighs 32 pounds and wears size 4T clothing.
After several operations, she is now able to walk with a walker and can even move a few steps on her own.
She has been mainstreamed into a regular classroom and now gets high honors, her mother said.
The child must go into the hospital for an infusion of a bone-hardening drug called Promiginate every three months.
Lexie's doctors, including her orthopedic surgeon and her neurologist, are amazed at her progress, her mother said. She is able to get ready by herself, though she must crawl around to get dressed.
Tristan came to the Bouchards when he was 2 days old. He had been born addicted to crack cocaine and was having seizures. Doctors' predictions that Tristan could have long-term problems have been unfounded, Mrs. Bouchard said.
"He's doing great. He's a typical boy," she said.
Tristan and Annie attend the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center at Loreto, where they were to take part in a special celebration of Annie's adoption today.
Leann Rendulic, a caseworker with Allegheny County Children Youth and Family Services, has known the Bouchards since 2006.
"They're exceptional people and have been a wonderful resource for our agency," she said. "They are completely dedicated to every child [who] is in their home."
Mrs. Bouchard, a former oncology nurse, had taken on part-time jobs in other fields that fit in around the care of her special needs children. When she and Mr. Bouchard got Annie and Alice, she stopped working, since they required 24-hour care.
She usually wears her scrub top, because it has pockets for the children's medicine, for her glasses to read instructions on medicines, for a cup with which to give pills and for tissues to wipe small noses.
Mrs. Bouchard said caring for the children is very rewarding and encourages others to foster and adopt.
"If you can take a child who's been hurt and do one thing that helps them feel they are worth something, give them love and structure and guidance ... [you] can see them blossom," she said.
Foster and adoptive parents can show children who were formerly neglected or abused "that they are worthy of respect and worthy of love," Mrs. Bouchard said.
The Allegheny County Children Youth and Family agency has temporarily suspended classes for new foster parents in Allegheny County but is still providing adoption services. The agency's main number is 412-473-2400.
Potential parents interested in adoption or foster parenting can also call the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network at 1-800-585-7926.
The SWAN website contains the photos and information of a number of children and teens between the ages of two and 18 available for adoption. The Web address is http://www.adoptpakids.org.
Anne Cloonan, freelance writer; email@example.com .