Kathy and Shawn Rutherford dreamed of having a large family. They talked about it. They planned on it. They wanted to have five kids. They seemed well on their way while expecting their second child. Then, during a routine visit to Kathy’s pre-natal doctor, Kathy heard those words no expecting mother wants to hear.
“Something’s not right.”
A sonogram would clear up the confusion even the doctor was having. Kathy was pregnant with twins. One baby was healthy. The other was not. After a long and very difficult pregnancy, Logan’s little brother Conor was born. The joy and miracle of Conor’s healthy birth was tempered by the loss of his fraternal twin brother and the news that Kathy could not likely survive another pregnancy. Conor would be their last biological child and Shawn’s vasectomy would make certain of it. Their dream of having a large family seemed over.
On top of the shock, Kathy couldn’t help wondering if her family was cursed. When she was almost four, she lost a baby sister who died of sudden infant death syndrome at two months, “crib death” as it was called then. She remembers the devastating feeling like it happened yesterday. Her grandmother had also lost two babies. Even Shawn’s mother had lost two babies. Although blessed with Logan and Conor, she couldn’t help but feel a little angry with God.
Kathy and Shawn looked into adoption but the high cost made them hesitant. Then one day they joined a new Bible study group. The group leader posed an ice-breaker question, “If money was no object, what would you ask God for?” The Rutherfords’ response became their prayer, “Dear God, please give us the right child at the right time.”
At that Bible study meeting was Stephanie, an adoptive parent who had adopted two children through Lutheran Social Services in Austin, Texas. She heard their prayer. Stephanie asked the Rutherfords if they had considered the foster-to-adopt program. They had never heard of it. “We were open to anything. We didn’t have a preference. We took Stephanie’s phone number and called her. She became our mentor,” Kathy remembers.
The Rutherfords went through the application process and their home became verified for the foster-to-adopt program. Their first child placement in the fall of 2006 was supposed to be a one-week respite placement, meaning the Rutherfords would take Tesa (not her real name) for a week while her actual foster parents took a short break from the rigors of parenting. During that week, Tesa’s foster parents decided they didn’t want to be foster parents after all.
“She fit in right away and she was of similar age to our boys,” Kathy said. “She has two biological brothers who suffer from muscular dystrophy. They couldn’t all be together but she wanted to be close enough to go to the same school. Our home allowed her to do that so she’s been with us ever since.”
That was five years ago. The Rutherfords hope to finalize their adoption of Tesa, now 15, this fall and make her a permanent part of their forever family.
About three months later, a baby girl was born and put up for adoption by her biological mother. The Rutherfords got a call. A healthy newborn baby girl was available. Would they take her, yes or no? They were not given much time to decide. It appeared to be the answer to their most ardent prayer. Three days after she was born, “baby girl” came into their home. She arrived without a name so Shawn and Kathy named her Maya.
About a month after Maya brought unspeakable joy into their home, they received a call from the infectious disease doctor at the hospital. It was not good news and it would change all their lives.
“She may be HIV positive. You need to bring her in tomorrow for more blood work,” the doctor said.
The results were devastating. Not only was Maya HIV positive, she had inherited Stage 4 HIV (full-blown AIDS) from her biological mother. Infant HIV in Travis County is rare. Maya was only the second child to be diagnosed in Austin in seven years. A mix-up at the hospital prevented that information from being made available to the Rutherfords before they took her home. The hospital changed its policy as a result of Maya’s case to prevent a re-occurrence.
Still, this shocking revelation left the Rutherfords wondering, “Why would God give us this baby?”
They were reminded by a friend of their original prayer, “The right child at the right time.”
“It was our ‘Ah-ha!’ moment,” recalls Kathy. “Seeing God’s will like that. More than anything, Maya needed to be loved on. We fell in love with her and she is part of our forever family.”
Maya’s original prognosis was 2-5 years. Maya is now a rambunctious and lively 4½-year-old girl. Her original blood count at birth showed 700,000 cells of the virus in 1 mL of blood. Her latest test result came back “undetectable” meaning that if she has any HIV cells in her blood, they are so few that they cannot be detected. The test can only detect a virus cell count of over 50 per mL of blood.
“With new meds and treatments coming out all the time, her prognosis is good,” says Kathy.
The Rutherfords are big believers in the power of prayer and have a team of 10 friends who pray and fast before every one of Maya’s blood tests.
After Maya’s diagnosis, Kathy left her job and promising career as a mortgage fraud investigator to be a full-time mom and give Maya the attention she needed. She hasn’t looked back.
“I was climbing the corporate ladder and missing out on my children’s school activities. Now I don’t miss any of it. Being part of my kids’ everyday life is worth far more than that paycheck,” she said.
Shawn has also been instrumental in helping the family make the transition. He is the chief meteorologist for KXAN News, the NBC-TV affiliate in Central Texas. TV weathermen tend to keep odd hours so he is home around 2 p.m. on weekdays, about the time Kathy needs a break to get other non-parenting chores done.
“I simply couldn’t do it without Shawn,” Kathy says.
Their experience with Maya made them relative experts in handling primary medical needs (PMN) children, an area in great demand in Texas foster care. Maya gave them the courage to foster other PMN kids and now Derek and Melissa (not their real names) are part of the family.
Derek turns two in September. His biological mother was badly hooked on multiple narcotics and was using during pregnancy. As a result, Derek was born with a long list of severe developmental disorders: cerebral palsy, spastic quadriplegia, por-, macro-, and hydro-encephalitis, chronic lung disease, blindness, and others. He sees 11 different specialists. He is not expected to live past age five.
“Shawn and I sat down with the kids and explained Derek’s situation, that he could die in our house and thinking maybe that would be too hard on them. But they had already fallen in love with him and he was already part of the family. They wanted him to be with us. We all did.”
Recently, Derek saw a pediatric ophthalmologist who was able to fit him with special glasses that help him see although he is legally blind.
“It’s made a huge difference in his ability to respond to us and smile back at us,” says Kathy. “Smiling is something the doctors said he would never be able to do.”
Melissa is six months old and also suffers from a host of medical issues stemming from her biological mother’s drug addiction. She has hypertonia where the muscles become very tight and clenched. She is prone to seizures and has vision problems. She is so young that doctors will need at least another year to fully diagnose her developmental disorders. She is at high risk for cerebral palsy.
“The miracle and joy of seeing Derek and Melissa meet milestones their doctors said they’d never meet simply because they’re being loved on is just indescribable,” Kathy says. “We always wanted a big family. It’s not conventional but we got it. God gave us what we wanted, a beautiful family, for a reason. It made us re-order our priorities. Loving on kids. Every day we get to do it is a gift.”