Little boy lost: Family struggles to help heal troubled adopted son

By Nicole Brochu South / Florida Sun-Sentinel
May 30, 2011

Unable to conceive, Patrick LoBrutto and Mary Greene chose to fill out their family the same way 12,000 Americans do each year by adopting a child from a foreign country. It's a dicey proposition, to be sure, especially when choosing a country like Russia, where the orphanages are filled with abused and neglected children.

But LoBrutto and Greene were prepared. Or so they thought. They were well-educated, they did their homework, they took international adoption classes, they even had one of the world's leading international-adoption experts advising them.

They were intent on having a son, to fill the hole that still pains LoBrutto, years after losing two sons from a previous relationship. The first died from a hole in his heart at 4 months old. The second was killed at the age of 12 when a car struck him as he rode his bicycle.

"I wanted to give Pat a son and have him experience that again," Greene, a Florida native, said last week in a phone interview from her Red Hook, N.Y., home. "We tried to be very scrupulous and careful."

Despite their best efforts, though, their family did not come together as planned.

The couple knew their child would come home with some difficulties, but they said they were adamant in their instructions to Adoption Source Inc. of Boca Raton: They could not handle a special needs child, and they would not adopt a child who had illnesses related to drug or alcohol exposure.

Still ...

When the eager would-be parents arrived in Birobidzhan for the first time in August 2004, the orphanage staff couldn't locate the 1-year-old the couple had planned to name Ben. When workers did find him, in the hospital ward where he'd lived since birth, he weighed just 12 pounds, had the head circumference of a 2-month-old and displayed obvious signs of fetal alcohol syndrome.

In the referral, the hospital admitted, the family was given the wrong baby's records. Their expert, Dr. Jane Aronson advised them to walk away.

They did, resolving to come back to Russia for a second try.

But when the orphanage found them another boy, an adorable child they named Peter, his referral came without the helpful guidance of a clear enough video of the boy and without sufficient photos to gauge his development. LoBrutto and Greene pressed the orphanage for better photos, but their request was denied.

And Greene says Adoption Source officials consistently gave them a dire warning. The couple had already fallen in love with a 2-year-old girl they were intent on adopting from the same orphanage.

"If we aggravated the Russian authorities too much ... they might deny us permission to adopt Sophie," Greene writes in her blog, "When Rain Hurts," which she hopes to turn into a book.

On top of those troubling signs was this one: Peter screamed every time Greene came anywhere near him or even uttered a sound. But the boy gravitated toward LoBrutto, who pushed aside his wife's growing concern. After losing two sons and having to walk away from "Ben," Greene said, her husband was not willing to leave another boy behind. The decision was made. Peter was theirs. And so was Sophie.

"There's that voice we should have listened to," she says now. "Retrospection is a beautiful thing."

Something's very wrong

Within six months of bringing their new children home, she said, "the floodgates opened."

Peter's erratic, violent behavior grew more troubling with each passing day, and more impossible to control. After extensive testing, the family discovered an alphabet soup of serious disorders plaguing their son: fetal alcohol syndrome, autism, seizure disorder, genetic abnormalities, rickets, intestinal parasites, tuberculosis, ADHD, bipolar mood disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and a suspected case of mitochondrial disease.

Not exactly the clean bill of health LoBrutto and Greene say they were promised.

Officials with Adoption Source, which closed shop in 2009, could not be reached for comment. Their attorney did not return a phone call for comment. But in Palm Beach County civil court filings, the defendants deny the LoBrutto-Greene family's allegations of negligence.

LoBrutto and Greene are far from alone in accusing adoption officials and orphanages in countries like Russia of concealing deep-seated medical problems.

"There is a growing number of families, because of international adoptions, that are experiencing struggles," said Chuck Johnson, president and CEO of the National Council for Adoption.

Many of these families, LoBrutto and Greene among them, are taking their cases to court, seeking retribution, validation, a chance to right a wrong.

Others deal with the trauma in more hideous ways.

Last year, a Tennessee mother touched off an international uproar when she put her 7-year-old adopted son on a plane to Moscow. In the boy's pocket was a note from Mom saying he was unstable and violent, that she had been misled as to his mental health, and that, for her own safety, she was sending him back.

Greene cannot condone such abandonment -- but she gets it.

"There are times, when I have literally been pushed to the brink, that I have had fantasies of just jumping in my car and driving away," she said. "I wouldn't act on it. I have the tools to not do that, but I understand it."

Sunlight in the storm

To help head off potential nightmares, Johnson advises prospective parents to "trust their instincts" when red flags arise. Key, too, he said, is to pursue adoption only with agencies approved by Russia's Ministry of Education and Science, which imposes strict guidelines.

As for those families coping with the fallout of a problematic adoption, Greene says the secret to survival is perseverance, and the help of available resources. For her family, therapists and counselors have proven a godsend, as have the local developmental disability and mental health agencies.

"Peter is a very damaged boy," his mother says, "but there is a heart in there. There's a very sweet child trapped in all that chaos."

It took the family two years and a lot of support to reach the sweetness and the heart. But today, Greene reports, Peter has progressed immeasurably from the little boy who couldn't stand to hear the sound of her voice, who spread feces on the wall, who vomited on purpose to spoil a family meal, who hurt himself and Sophie, and who seemed wholly unreachable.

Peter will always need 24-hour care, his mother says, but he is a "mostly happy child." He is polite, enjoys soccer and will soon be entering a residential treatment center that will allow him to spend weekends at home and have one-on-one therapy and educatational care.

"Peter knows we're his parents, he knows we love him, he knows we want to protect him," his mother said.

The family's journey may never be over, and its scars will last a lifetime. But for better or worse, they are a family.

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How about the screener in this story?

This is really an interesting case. In a follow-up, the agency director, Jill Scott, puts the blame for the situation squarely at the feet of the adoptive parents, whom apparently ignored all warning signs.

What is missing about the reporting about this case, is the home study agency, which approved these adoptive parents for adoption. Apparently these adoptive parents had serious issues when starting the adoption. The loss of two children is huge and resolving that is no small feat, but adoption is not a solution to that. No child should be adopted to fill a hole in someones heart.

Screeners have an obligation to protect children from people adopting for the wrong reasons. Looking at this case, it seems to me that yet another screener, approving prospective adopters despite obvious red-flags.

world's leading international-adoption experts

"they even had one of the world's leading international-adoption experts advising them."

Who? Federici, Aronson?

All these 'adoption classes' are just putting a smokescreen. Nothing more, nothing less.

In related material....

The family employed two of the top physicians in international adoption (Dr. Jane Aronson and Dr. Dana Johnson) to help them decipher records.

[From:  Adoption agency: Family ignored warnings, advice in adopting troubled boy ]

Is there information PPL readers should know about either top physician in ICA?

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