MengYan’s story began in China, in Hunan Province. We do not know much about her birth or her birth family. She was found abandoned in a box at the front door of the local police station. She was a newborn at that time and was taken to an orphanage because her family could not be found.
We also do not know much about MengYan’s early days. There are no notes or photos.
The real story begins when she was about 18 months old. There was a team of American women in China doing humanitarian work in the orphanages. They were at a hospital with another child when they began hearing a noise they described as a “kitten mewing”. When they inquired about the noise, they were taken to a small closet. The noise was not a kitten. It was MengYan.
We have photos of her on this day. She was less than 12 pounds, extremely malnourished, and very pale. The women said that they were told by doctors that this baby girl had thalassemia and required transfusions regularly. They had elected to “discontinue her treatment” as her potential for a full life was so slim. These wonderful ladies then asked if they could take responsibility for MengYan, and they took her to Shepherd’s Field, an American-run orphanage in China for medically fragile children. These same ladies then fundraised to pay for MengYan’s care and for her transfusions while they tried to find a family to adopt her. They called her “Emily”.
We heard about MengYan in early 2008. We saw her beautiful photo, heard just a bit of her story, and our entire family knew she was our daughter. Her Thalassemia did not scare us. We already parented a child with sickle cell disease so we were familiar with transfusions, hemoglobin checks, and most importantly, we already had a fantastic team of docs waiting for her… Dr. Ross and the staff at the Midwest Affiliate St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In fact when we took MengYan’s file to the clinic they encouraged us to go get our baby girl, and said they would help us get her healthy… they were as excited as we were!
The adoption process was long and terrible. We were the very first Hague family for our agency, so this complicated things even more. It took us a terrible 18 months to finally be approved for travel. On October 18, 2009, we boarded a plane bound for China to bring her home. We were so excited!
When we met MengYan for the first time, I have to say we were shocked. She was 3 1/2 but so tiny, so frail, so pale, but mostly so sick. Her belly was so huge she could barely walk. She sweated profusely with every little effort. She was obviously uncomfortable, and we were very concerned.
The staff at Shepherd’s Field, who had loved and cared for her for 2 years, all worried we might change our minds about adopting her once we met her. No way! We were already in love! Our biggest concern was getting her home safely with her health so fragile.
We were given her transfusion records, and we immediately noticed that her hemoglobin was rarely above 4. Most times she was transfused, her level was at 2.5. How was she even alive? As we left Shepherd’s Field, we realized that we needed to get her to a hospital to check her current hemoglobin levels – to see if it was even safe to fly her home.
The first two hospitals refused to treat Meng because we were foreign, and she was an orphan. The third hospital agreed to treat her, but only if we paid cash up front. Her hemoglobin was 4. Not high enough to fly her home, so we requested a transfusion. This entire idea scared us because the hospital was filthy, unorganized, and pure chaos. But we knew Meng may not even survive the flight home without blood. When they finally brought us the unit of blood, it was still warm! We believe it had just been donated. There was no cross/match…..we were told every one in China has the same blood type. The unit was whole blood, and it was administered to Meng in a short hour. We were pretty horrified. But the language barrier made it impossible for us to complain or give suggestions.
We did make it home okay. Meng sweated and cried most of the way home. She complained mostly of belly pain. Her poor belly was so swollen and extended, we thought perhaps she had a tumor. We didn’t think it was possible for a spleen or liver to be that large. We got home late on a Wednesday, and let Meng sleep. Early the next morning, her daddy took her to Peoria, Illinois to meet with her new team of doctors.
I don’t think any of us, doctors included, were prepared for Meng’s health to be so poor. I don’t remember much of those first few weeks, as everything happened so quickly. She was admitted to the hospital where she was given more transfusions very slowly to get her at a healthy level.
We remember hearing scary words like: congestive heart failure, kidney failure, liver damage, enlarged heart and lots of heart damage. The large tumor we felt in her belly was actually her spleen. We had no idea it could ever get that large. Her iron levels were so high that they were not readable by Ferriscan. But we knew that meant they were at a critical level.
She was a very sick little girl. One of the nurses later told me that she did not expect MengYan to live.
Once we got her home from the hospital, her joy returned, but it was a very long time before she could walk from room to room without having to sit down and rest. Stairs were impossible for her. Running was out of the question.
Meng did not get better overnight. It truly took close to two years for her to become healthy. We went from having to transfuse every week to now transfusing every three weeks. Her first readable liver iron was a 29, and now it is a 4.
Five years later… Meng is now healthy! She is a normal, active, crazy little girl! She loves to play basketball and mostly loves to run! She has participated in many 5 and 10K runs. She won a 1 mile children’s race against many kids who were older and more experienced. Silly mom tries to keep up with her in races, but she never can.
Meng’s belly is soft and normal, her heart rate is normal, her spleen and liver are barely palpable. She is truly a little miracle, a blessing, and a treasure! We attribute her recovery to her amazing doctors and her joyful spirit. And of course, we thank God every single day for bringing her into our lives, and healing her.
Thalassemia was a huge part of her life, and now it seems so small. Receiving blood transfusions every three weeks has become something we look forward to. She and I get to spend the day together, enjoying crafts and games that the Child Life Specialist provides for us in clinic. We don’t think about her Thalassemia much, except to remind her to take her daily chelation meds and to schedule her transfusions. Thalassemia is such a simple disease to manage. And the quicker these kids get home, the better.
Now? Here we go again. We have been trying to find a family for a young man with Thalassemia, who is also waiting in China. He is very sick. He is 13, so his poor body has been battling inadequate medical treatments for way too many years. A few months ago, we decided that we were his family. We should be bringing him home in April! And we know… that his life and health are about to radically change! 🙂