by: Amie Greenberg, JD and Barbara Greenberg, MD
Imagine how much a foster child can enrich and bless your life. If you have ever thought about giving back by
fostering a child, but had hesitation, please consider little Marla’s story. She lights up a room with her smile. Marla is a beautiful, loving and vivacious child. You would never know by her smile and contagious happiness how much she has overcome at the tender age of three. Marla’s light and courage is a message to others about embracing differences, trusting in your heart and giving back to others.
It was February 24, 2012 when my brother and sister-in-law, Rich and Carrie Greenberg, received a phone call about fostering then eighteen month old Marla. Marla had been hospitalized for the third time for “failure to thrive.” This means that she was not gaining the appropriate amount of weight at home.
The Greenberg’s have two beautiful children, Zachary and Samantha. It was Carrie’s battle with infertility and their desire for a third child that led them to sign up to become foster parents. Initially, Rich and Carrie decided they would not take any medically needy children because it would be too difficult for the family. But, their first call about fostering was for Marla, who had developmental delays and medical problems. They agreed to at least meet the baby, and in the hospital, Carrie immediately bonded with Marla and they decided to take her home on February 25, 2012.
Rich is an emergency pediatric physician and with his medical background, social workers thought the family would be the perfect foster family because of Marla’s host of challenging medical conditions, her daily medical care needs, appointments, and multiple looming surgeries. However, it is Carrie that takes care of Marla on a day to day basis. “You don’t need to be a medical professional to care for a child with medical needs,” Says Carrie.
Marla had been born prematurely and had her first nasogastric or NG tube (feeding tube) at birth. Although she fed from a bottle later on, Marla had severe reflux. Her biological family took out the NG tube every time she ate, causing great distress. Marla’s biological family did not appreciate how to care for Marla’s medically fragile condition.
Whether it was the reflux or the trauma, Marla had an oral aversion. Unable to eat on her own, Marla had a NG feeding tube in her nose when she first came to live with the Greenberg family. Because of the trauma she suffered, Marla would not allow the Greenberg’s to touch or get near her face, even to kiss her. The Greenberg’s noticed other uncharacteristic behavior for an 18-month old. When Marla was put in her crib for a nap or at night, she’d lay still without playing, fussing or crying. She simply closed her eyes and fell to sleep. Marla did not speak, could not walk and had poor muscle tone.
Marla has required a lot of care and repeated consultations with multiple specialists. She requires constant feedings through her feeding tube for about fourteen hours a day. She has had hip surgery, surgery to alter her NG tube and underwent a surgical procedure called Nissen fundoplication to treat her gastroesophageal reflux disease. Little Marla’s surgeries were successful. She was in a cast which stabilized her from her chest to her ankles. After a month Marla then commenced physical, occupational and speech therapies.
Carrie shoulders the majority of the daily routine and care for Marla with patience, kindness and gratitude. Marla came into a family with a brother and sister, Zachary and Samantha, who love and care for her unconditionally. I have great pride for my niece and nephew. She also had a host of cousins who did not see the feeding tube in her nose and only saw her smile, her love and caring nature. Everyone embraced Marla as their new sibling, cousin, niece and grand-daughter showering her with love. She was our shining star from the beginning and was welcomed openly. She has changed our entire family and brought tremendous love.
Every day we see Marla grow, develop and improve, is a tremendous joy.” says Carrie. This is what you see when you ignore the differences and look for the love in people. So in reality, our family members are the ones that have been blessed by having Marla in our home, not the other way around,” adds Rich.
After one year, Marla has and continues to improve dramatically. She went from not being able to walk or stand unsupported, to having the will to try and support her tiny body. She still has poor muscle tone and requires ongoing multiple therapies and specialist appointments on a weekly basis. Although she still has the feeding tube, she is starting to eat and drink. Marla loves attention and is showered with love and kisses. Marla adores music and dancing, especially to her favorite song, Locked Out Of Heaven, by Bruno Mars. When this song plays, you can hear her sing “yeah, yeah, Ooh!” Marla also has an affinity for water – bath time and swimming are all -time favorites.
Exactly one-year to the date of fostering her, Rich and Carrie adopted Marla. Her adoption was a beautiful gift to the entire family. Writing this story brings tears to my eyes because of how special she is to our family and because of the love and joy she has brought to Rich, Carrie, Zachary and Samantha. People say that Marla is lucky to be in our family with a pediatrician for a father. We feel that we are the lucky ones because she has blessed our entire family beyond what words can describe. She has brought us such happiness and an immeasurable perspective on what truly is important in life” states Carrie.
Here is a little girl that is courageous through all the physical trials that she faces. Here is a fighter that managed to survive the horrible case of neglect at the hands of her family. Here is a child that has brought about a tremendous sense of love and service in our children. Here is a child that has a smile that can light up the darkest of rooms. Here is the light and love of our lives” says Rich. When you look at Marla, you may see her differences. What Rich and Carrie hope is that you see past the physical problems and truly look at the possibilities when you consider fostering or adopting any child.
Rich and Carrie encourage parents, step-parents, foster and adoption parents to love their children unconditionally, and remind families of the many wonderful opportunities there are to love and raise children and how much they enrich our lives.
This story is dedicated to my brother Rich and sister (in-law) Carrie who had the courage and faith to foster a medically challenged child and changed her life and ours forever. To Marla, you became part of our family on February 25, 2012 and we are all grateful and blessed.