July 2, 2013 at 8:06 AM ET
Their love for her came in an instant, and she filled them with a sense of peace.
Shelly White didn’t think it was practical, or even possible, for her family to adopt a child, especially one with a deadly disease. She and her husband were already the parents of four, and the Louisville, Ky., couple had struggled through the recession, trading their large home for a small rental and draining their savings.
But ever since their 10-year-old daughter, Ryan Elizabeth, learned about orphaned children after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, their daughter offered what money she had, and raised even more, to encourage her parents to open their home to an orphan.
“She would cry at night, and I’d say, ‘Honey, we can pray for them,’” White recalls. “We said, ‘This is not something we can do right now because it costs a lot of money.’ And she’s like, ‘Here’s my piggy bank. Take it.’”
Ryan Elizabeth was determined, and as holidays approached, she asked for donations rather than toys. “She literally would not let this go,” White says.
Her persistence led the family to Show Hope, an orphan advocacy group, and the family of nondenominational Christians prayed for the youngsters on the group’s website. This past March, the story of one child arrived by email and captured their hearts like no other.
Shelly White was immediately taken with a 1-year-old girl living in a Chinese orphanage with a cancerous tumor, and was heartbroken to imagine the girl facing treatment alone, possibly with just a year to live.
“I had a mother’s love for her right away,” says White, whose other children are 3, 6 and 9. “I can’t really explain it. I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I couldn’t get her off my heart.”
Adoption would cost at least $20,000, and White wondered how another child could fit in their three-bedroom, one-bathroom house. Still, her two girls and two boys “bombarded” her and her husband, Hal, with pleas to adopt the little one they call Mya.
“My 6-year-old said, ‘We have room in our hearts, Mom,’” says White, 38. “I said, ‘We do. You’re right.’ We were responding with logic and they were responding with love.”
Hal White, 41, recalls his wife asking: “‘If we can agree that money is the only reason why we wouldn’t do this, can we depend on our faith, and know that God will provide?’” “Absolutely,” he answered.
Within days, the couple agreed to take in Mya.
Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville committed to treating Mya at no cost to the Whites, which allowed the girl to receive a one-year medical visa and come to the United States before an adoption was complete. Mya arrived on May 7, with the Whites serving as her guardians as they go through the adoption process.
“We just had this love for her that was instant, and it wasn’t a hard decision because of our faith,” Shelly White says. “Peace and stage four cancer don’t go hand-in-hand, but we just have it with her.”
The Whites had called on a longtime friend and church elder, Scott Watkins, vice president of operations for Norton Healthcare. Watkins has raised $18,000 in pledges to help with the adoption, and Norton Healthcare owns the hospital providing Mya’s care.
Mya has rhabdomyosarcoma, cancer of the connective tissue, in her pelvis. After several rounds of chemotherapy, the tumor, which is protruding from her vagina, has shrunk significantly, said Dr. Stephen Wright, Kosair’s medical director.
“We think the prognosis at this point is pretty good,” he said. “We’re very pleased with how well the tumor is responding to chemotherapy.”
Mya was not getting the optimal doses of medication in China, and likely would not have survived, said Wright, who has seen Mya’s development improve in the short time she has been in Louisville.
“It’s a life-changing event that they would open their home and their hearts to somebody they did not know at all with a serious medical problem and provide her with the love that she wouldn’t get in an orphanage,” Wright said of the Whites.
The White children adore Mya, Shelly White says, and if the children fight, it is only over who gets to hold her. “They have compassion for her and they’re so happy that she’s here,” she says.
The children get credit for encouraging the couple to “practice what we preach,” White says.
The Whites teach their children “about love and helping others, and they called us on it,” she said. Of Ryan Elizabeth, White added: “It’s like we gave her the foundation, and she dared us to apply it.”
If you'd like to donate to the White family adoption fund, contact the Northeast Christian ChurchinLouisville, Ky.