Tennessee Family Adopted Four Boys With Down Syndrome. One Of Them Has Autism, And Another One Is Battling Cancer, But The Family Fights On
September 5, 2018 17:45 By Fabiosa
Meet the Carmichaels
The Carmichaels are a happy family of eight from Knoxville, Tennessee. Stephanie and Sean Carmichael got married in 1998. At the time, Stephanie had two children, daughter Danielle and son Cody.
At one point, Stephanie and her husband decided that they wanted more children, and the couple set out on a mission. Their goal was to give orphaned children with Down syndrome a chance at life.
In 2010, Stephanie and Sean adopted Caden and Cole, two boys from Ukraine. Both boys have DS, and Cole has institutional autism.
Two years later, the couple came back to Ukraine and took home little Cooper, who was 5 years old at the time.
In 2016, the Carmichaels welcomed Cobi, a boy from Bulgaria.
The journey hasn’t been easy
Caden, Cole, Cooper, and Cobi are non-verbal. They need assistance with everyday tasks such as eating and getting dressed. In an interview with Knoxville News Sentinel, the boys’ mom said:
Every one of them requires hand-to-hand assistance. Cooper has to be walked to the bathroom. He has to be helped with his clothes. I'll have to put him on the potty. You have to wash all their faces, brush all their teeth...They're not packing their own backpacks.
Eating out may also present challenges. Stephanie said:
They're not saying, 'I want a hamburger'. Cooper has no behavioral filter, so he’s throwing stuff. So we’re working on nice hands, sitting there. Cole has to be redirected to take another bite. You don’t sit down and have a silent meal — it’s constant. I half the time don’t eat.
The boys' health problems have been the biggest challenge. At the time when Cooper was adopted, he weighed just 14 pounds (at the age of 5!), and was severely malnourished. Once the boy was in the U.S., he received treatment, and he is doing fine now.
Little Cobi has had more than his fair share of struggles. His medical history includes seizure disorder, cerebral palsy, paralyzed vocal cords, sleep apnea, and skull fractures. On top of that, he was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after he arrived at his new home.
People have said some totally insensitive things to Stephanie about this situation. She recalled:
People said that if he dies, it's a good thing I just got him. If he dies, it was going to be just as devastating as if any of my other kids died, especially knowing his back story, and that his whole life has been misery.
Although Cobi’s future remains uncertain, his family believes he will pull through.
Despite all these struggles, the Carmichaels' home is full of joy. Stephanie said each boy has a unique, vibrant personality. And, although they can’t say it, they really love their parents. In the interview, Stephanie said:
I've always said that if you haven't been loved by somebody who has Down syndrome, you have not really been loved yet.
Stephanie explains why they opted for international adoption
While most people who know their story are supportive, the family has faced criticism for the most ridiculous reasons.
One of the things people don’t get is why Stephanie and Sean chose to adopt children with DS from Eastern Europe, while there are children with Down syndrome in U.S. orphanages. Stephanie wrote a response to those who criticize them.
Stephanie had to explain: In Eastern Europe, children with Down syndrome, who end up in orphanages, have to live in squalid conditions, with little to no access to medical care.
By bringing the boys over from Eastern Europe to the U.S., the Carmichaels didn’t just give them a chance to have a normal life. They gave these boys a chance to survive.
This amazing family is fighting the good fight, and they are doing it really well. Helping those in need is one of the highest virtues, and we wish them all the best in their journey!