How one family's love transformed the life of this starving, neglected boy

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/ Source: TODAY Contributor
By Terri Peters

In the community of families who have chosen to adopt, it's not uncommon for a parent to see a photo of an orphan and think, "That's my kid."

Tennessee mom Priscilla Morse knows this for a fact — it has happened to her twice.

Morse, who has two biological children with her husband, David, first pursued international, special needs adoption in 2012, when she brought her daughter McKenzie home from Russia. Now 7, McKenzie has Down syndrome and a heart condition, but is thriving in her new home.

Morse with her two adopted children, McKenzie, 7, and Ryan, 8.Priscilla Morse

After adopting McKenzie, Morse says she and David thought their family was complete, until one day when Morse was scrolling through her Facebook feed and saw a post from an adoption organization that showed a malnourished 6-year-old boy in Bulgaria.

After seeing a photo of a 6-year-old boy in a Bulgarian orphanage, Morse and her husband decided to adopt a second time.Priscilla Morse

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"I don't know how to describe it, but you look at them and you just know," Morse told TODAY Parents. "We had decided long ago that if we were going to adopt, it was going to be the kids no one was coming for — kids in Third World countries who are locked away in orphanages."

"I don't know how to describe it, but you look at them and you just know," said Morse of her son, Ryan.Patricia Morse

Morse started the process of adopting the boy, who she later named Ryan, in September 2014. In November 2015, she made the trip to Bulgaria to pick up her son, who was then age 7 but the size of a toddler and, according to medical reports, had a host of medical issues, including cerebral palsy, club feet, scoliosis and microcephaly, a birth defect that affects brain growth and head size.

"When I first met him, he looked like a skeleton...I was shocked — it took two or three visits to the orphanage before I got over the shock of how emaciated he was," said Morse. "He was barely alive."

Morse says when she returned to the U.S. with Ryan, some of the doctors responsible for his care teared up upon meeting him.

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Today, 8-year-old Ryan is on the road to getting healthy.Priscilla Morse

"They all said there was no way that this kid should still have been alive," said Morse.

"It was intense for a long time, and I think you kind of guard yourself against just how serious it is so you can push through every day and do what you have to do," Morse continued.

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In the year since Ryan has been with his family, he has gained weight through the help of a feeding tube and has started the process of correcting his club feet. He is also making gains with speech and communication, and he has full range of motion in his hands. Morse says her son's doctors and therapists are hopeful that he will continue to thrive and reach his full potential.

Priscilla Morse with her husband David and their children, Dylan, 14, Ryan, 8, Jack, 7, and McKenzie, 7.Priscilla Morse

"It's going to be a long process," said Morse. "Seven years of neglect can't be undone in a day."

Morse says adopting children with special needs has its challenges, but she feels blessed every day to be able to share her life with her biological sons, Dylan 14, and Jack, 7, and her adopted children. And, the Tennessee mom thinks the adoption process is giving her biological kids a sense of what matters most in life.

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"It's not stuff that's important, it's people... stuff is fleeting, but saving someone's life is what matters," said Morse. "Investing in a person and being of service — that's what matters."

"Everyone deserves a family. No one should be written off if they have special needs just because it's going to be hard," said Morse.Patricia Morse

Morse hopes Ryan's story, which she documents on Facebook, will inspire others to adopt special needs kids or to support adoptive families by contributing financially to their adoption fees, bringing them meals on tough days or offering to babysit their kids in the U.S. while they're out of the country finalizing an adoption.

"Someone has to be a voice for these kids — they're voiceless and they have no representation," said Morse. "Everyone deserves a family. No one should be written off if they have special needs just because it's going to be hard. Life is hard anyway, so you adjust and you learn, because these kids — they are so worthy."

This story is part of NBCU's Share Kindness initiative. Follow the series on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. #ShareKindness