“After an unbelievably early start in Russia, that fact is amazing,” said Vorndran of Hoagland. “He nearly died over there.”
Jonah was adopted at age 2 by Jane and her husband, Michael. Jonah has fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), attention-deficit disorder (ADD), sensory issues, a heart defect and post-traumatic stress disorder(PSTD).
FAS involves a cluster of problems, including mental retardation, that result from the child's mother drinking alcoholic beverages during her pregnancy.
Jonah's family hopes he will find some help this week at a center in Massachusetts that works on improving the lives of people with FAS.
Jonah, at age 2, weighed only 16 pounds. He had a distended stomach and stick arms and legs. He didn't walk, talk, crawl or feed himself, said Vorndran.
In addition to being frequently and extremely ill in Russia (including simultaneous meningitis and pneumonia), Jonah suffered some horrific injuries and is still undergoing reconstructive surgery — he's had nine operations so far.
The Vorndrans, who have three other children — including Danil, 9, another special-needs Russian adoptee; Zoe, 11, a China-born adoptee; and Bailey, 17, their biological daughter — struggle daily with Jonah's challenges.
“Jonah, who is in third grade for the second time, has extremely poor fine-motor skills,” Jane said. “His handwriting is unreadable much of the time. Then his brain kicks in and remembers how to form the letters, and he can write fine. It's confusing because it's perceived that he can do it when it's kind of like a brain skip. He may not look or act disabled, but he is,” added Vorndran.
The most distressing aspect of FAS is that parents can't get services for their children without real difficulty, Vorndran said.
“Usually, the only services we can get are for the disorders that go hand-in-hand with FAS, such as ADD,” Vorndran said.
Had it not been for the Fort Wayne Center for Learning, she said, Jonah would still be reading at a kindergarten level.
“He's progressed tremendously with them, and we owe them a great deal,” said Vorndran.
Improvements are slow but cause for celebration. Jonah can now ride a bike (“Huge achievement for a kid with his poor muscle coordination,” his mother said) and read (“He loves reading”). “He's always happy to see me. I get a hug every time I walk in the door!”
People at the Center for Learning and other friends helped raise money for Jonah to go to Active Healing in Magnolia, Mass.
“This is a nonprofit organization where people can build connections between neurons in their brains by doing movements — patterning — as it were,” Vorndran said. “There is no cure for FAS, but the movements and building brain neuron ‘bridges' will help with the symptoms, along with the other issues Jonah has. We're excited to be going, because we have heard such amazing testimonials from other FAS parents.”
Jonah knows that his birth mom drank alcohol and that's why he thinks and learns differently, said Vorndran.
“He is now at the age where he realizes that he is ‘different,'” she said. “The kids treat him unkindly, and it breaks my heart to see him friendless. He says it makes him sad when people call him names.
“Your eyes see an 11-year-old boy,” she noted. “It's very hard to remember that his brain is acting at a much younger level, sometimes at a 5-year-old stage. Can you expect a 5-year-old to do, know and be trusted with various things?
“Jonah's mood swings are what drive most of us nuts the most,” she added. “He can be the most loving, most frustrating child I've ever known. And yet, for all Jonah has been through in his young life, I would willingly walk over hot coals for him.”
Learn more♦National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: www.nofas.org
♦Active Healing: 15 Lexington Avenue, Magnolia, MA 01930, 1-978-525-3608, www.activehealing.org
♦Fort Wayne Center for Learning: 3310 Mallard Cove Lane, Fort Wayne, IN 46804, 469-3925, www.fwcl.org
♦“Triumph through Challenges of FAS,” is a weekly class offered locally by Amy Worman of the Child Life Center. Contact her at 471-2300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.