Cleo: adopting a child with burns

February 18, 2015 body scars, burns, contracture deformity, Family Stories, Skin Conditions 5 Comments

In looking back I can see now that the seed was carefully planted long before we knew of her. The unknown preparation came in the forms of books, a family story from a friend, career decisions and a few other situations that seemed of random nature at the time. It wasn’t in our initial scope to adopt a child with burns but that seems to be a transformation that often happens along the adoption journey…


I saw her first on our Agency’s Special Focus list (the Special Focus list is an Agency Advocate list with referrals of children that are felt to have needs that might be considered more extensive). Her face captured me the moment I saw her and her eyes dug deep into my soul. Her special need was listed as Body Scars and Contracture Deformity. I had no idea what that meant, but I knew I had to explore further. I contacted my husband and our agency and by that evening we had the referral of this beautiful little one at our fingertips (our dossier was already complete). Our adoption coordinator explained to us that her listed special need was the result of severe burns sustained as an infant.

She also mentioned to us that we should prepare ourselves, as some of the photos might be difficult to view. My husband and I decided to wait until our children went to bed that evening to view the referral. While we were waiting we agreed to prepare our hearts and minds and to pray for peace and guidance with the information we were about to receive. When we had everyone tucked in, I ran (literally) to open the file and we begin reading. Little bits of her referral read like a poem with lines such as this…

“So if you could take good care of her, this broken winged princess would walk alone toward the beautiful fair world….”


In those moments our hearts were transforming and our eyes were already seeing things from a different perspective. We moved on to the referral photos and our adoption coordinator was correct; they were hard to look at, but God had provided and transformed what was a difficult sight into one of hope.

We saw that her burns were extensive, she had scars that extended down her right torso, around to her lower back, across her groin, down her right thigh and then again on top of her right foot. She had multiple contractures (a contracture is when the skin pulls tight from healing). Our laymen eyes could see that her right big toe pulled into a vertical position due to tightening of the skin over the top of her foot and that there was also an obvious contracture of her right hip. The skin from her thigh and torso had healed connected to one another.


In reality there was no turning back for us after that moment. To be fair though, to our family and to her, we needed to research, educate and be realistic about what her care would entail. We needed to be certain that we could provide all that she would need. Immediately the next day we began gathering as much information as we could about living with burns and the treatments plans that would inevitably be part of her life. We set up an appointment with our International Adoption Doctor for a consultation that week; began researching online and through a mutual contact reached out to a family who had adopted a child with severe burns.

From our meeting with the Doctor, we learned that there were likely orthopedic conditions to consider as well. The main concern being her right hip. At that time, we weren’t sure how deep the burns were and how much range of motion she would have in her hip joint. We also received promising news that her contractures and scaring could be released with surgery and with skin grafting. We spoke about the long-term, but there was quite a bit of uncertainty so we were given both sides of the scenario. Reaching out to and speaking with another adoptive family was huge, it was honest and reassuring.

So in the end, as you have already figured out by now, we dove in head first knowing she was our daughter.

During our wait to travel to bring her home, we learned through updates that she was living in Foster Care and was receiving funds for medical care through sponsorships with an outreach program/organization. To make this huge provision even better, we determined through photos and updates that she had received surgery to release some contractures. We also determined that orthopedic care had started. Hallelujah! There were still many unknowns however, knowing she was being well cared for was an amazing sense of relief for us.

Our Gotcha Day took place in our hotel room. I answered the door and she was carried in by two women from the Orphanage (when children are in foster care they are usually sent back to the orphanage a few days/weeks before the adoption). She was holding a red flower and a bag or Mandarin oranges (to this day these are still her favorite things). After a bit, they placed her down so she could stand. And walk. And run. And climb. Folks, seeing your child do these things when you’ve spent a year thinking about the possibility of the latter was pure joy. More than that though, I was completely elated for her.



We spent the next few weeks in China; resting a bit for attachment and bonding; attending appointments and sight-seeing. I learned that she was a healthy, playful toddler with lots of energy and plenty to say. It’s quite possible, that with the exception of sleeping, she hasn’t stopped talking since then!




Upon arriving home, we started our life as a family of eight. We’ve been through many doctor appointments, but honestly we figured out most often it’s just another step in our journey. When I was asked to write about adopting with burns as a special need, it took me some time to feel comfortable with it. I’m no expert and I’m learning more everyday.

I think you’ll find each burn story to be unique in daily life and treatments. We’ve been home two years now and have been through our first contracture release surgery and skin graft. Having experienced the surgery and after care, I have a better idea of what lies ahead now. When I began writing this I felt like it was just as important that I shared the beginning of the journey as what it is like living with this special need. 


Our hearts and lives were transformed by this mighty little girl. See you in Part II, where I’ll share more about the daily life of Adopting with Burns as a special need.

Our family’s China Travel Posts can be found here.

— guest post by Jessica

5 responses to “Cleo: adopting a child with burns”

  1. Sharon says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. That final photo of your daughter is ridiculously gorgeous. LOVE 🙂

  2. Auntie Granny June says:

    i couldn’t be more proud of my niece and nephew for their open and generous hearts. They are great parents to all their children. They are one fabulous cohesive family. Love them all so much!!

  3. Rebecca says:

    Such a sweet, sweet story. Thanks for sharing it.

  4. Lounetta J. McKenzie says:

    Awesome Story!So Touching and Inspirational..So Happy for you All.You’re All very Blessed!And just a Beautiful Family…Heart felt Prayers.And Best Wishes!With Love❤Aunt Lou

  5. Christine Weaver says:

    Jessica, how many years between burn and bringing her home? We questioned skin grafts etc but were told that at this point it doesn’t seem necessary, his scars are probaby 14 years old. maybe you can PM me on FB or e-mail me at

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