Who Will Adopt a Dying Child?


A tiny, abused, and badly burned infant lay dying in a Korean orphanage—a forgotten child. He was the unwanted child of an Asian mother and an American serviceman: the product of two cultures, but accepted by neither because of the great prejudice in that country against mixed blood.

Several thousand miles away in America, I drove on a warm summer’s evening to join my husband at a board of directors’ meeting for Heal the Children. This nonprofit organization relied upon hospitals, medical specialists, and volunteer families to help poverty-stricken children throughout the world. I remembered ten-year-old Maria from South America, whose pretty face had been disfigured forever when she toppled into a huge pot of boiling beans. Several plastic surgeons had given freely of their skill over the past two years to reconstruct her burned face. A wonderful family with ten children had selflessly taken her into their home to care for her between operations. We all hoped that Maria would be able to return to her home in South America by the time she was sixteen.

My thoughts shifted to the present as I parked my car and proceeded up the office steps to attend a meeting that would change my life forever. My husband greeted me warmly, then handed me a packet of photos of needy children that we would review.

“This one is adoptable,” he stated with deep seriousness as he pointed to the picture of an Amerasian infant.

“How wonderful for some lucky family,” I replied sincerely as I gazed into the dark brown eyes staring blankly from the photo.

“But there isn’t time to look for a family to adopt him,” my husband explained. “He is dying.”

Before I could ask any questions, the board president explained that this baby boy had been born with serious health problems. Father Keene had found the baby wrapped in newspapers on his orphanage’s doorstep. The baby’s head had been scalded, and he suffered from severe malnutrition complicated by a birth defect which prevented his body from eliminating waste. To complicate the situation, a crude attempt to correct this birth defect had failed and had left him scarred and infected. Through my shock, I heard my husband ask, “Do you want to adopt him?”

My mind whirled with unanswered questions. I thought of the two infants we had adopted within the past two years after four of our six children had left home. Our friends had questioned our decision to go back into the “baby business” at middle age, but we love children and had been blessed with the means to care for them. I stared again into the eyes of the dark-eyed baby boy in the photo. The somber, intent expression on his tiny face seemed to murmur, “You’re my only chance.”

We rushed to the Korean authorities the necessary fees to cover adoption and medical costs. The immigration clearance came in less than forty-eight hours, instead of the usual six months. Within ten days every legal step to bring this baby to us had been properly taken. His life was now in God’s hands.

Before long, word came that the orphanage would soon send the baby. A few days later, we received word that the baby was on his way. But when the flight arrived, he was not aboard. Our hearts sank as a flight attendant informed us that the baby had taken a turn for the worse and the airlines would not allow him on board until he could be stabilized. So we waited. Then another flight was arranged; the baby would arrive at midnight. Again we waited. Finally the announcement came that the Korean jet had been delayed but would land at 1:40 A.M.

As the passengers stepped from the plane, the tension mounted. The last of the passengers walked past us. After what seemed like forever, an exhausted male nurse and attendant came forward carrying our new son. Tubes and medical equipment had just been detached from the tiny, expressionless baby. The attendant placed Nam Soo Kim into my waiting arms. Our reaction was a mixture of joy and pain. The baby’s large brown eyes were listless, and angry red sores and purplish welts covered his frail body. For a baby a few months old, he was pitifully small, with a large, distended stomach.

We took Nam Soo Kim to the doctor at 7:30 A.M. A closer examination revealed scars from cigarette burns on his arms, legs, and back. An ugly wound from the tortuous attempt to correct the birth defect had healed with bulging scar tissue and a raging infection inside his body. The physician was somber as he finished the examination. He sadly shook his head. “This baby needs an immediate colostomy to save his life. However, he is in such a severe state of shock, I don’t think he would survive the operation.”

“But what can we do for him?” I asked.

“Take him home and love him. I’ll give you a prescription for antibiotics and vitamins. If there is any emotional response at all, call me immediately.”

Tears filled my eyes as I carried Nam Soo Kim to the car for the long drive home. Catrina, our daughter who was almost two years old, begged to hold the baby on her lap, so I gently cradled him in her arms as she cooed and sang lullabies to him. His face remained expressionless. When we arrived home, my husband phoned our home teacher and neighbor, C. Don Miller, to come and assist him in giving a blessing to the baby. Dr. Miller, our former bishop, was also a prominent physician, so after the blessing we asked for his expert opinion. He confirmed the specialist’s prognosis that the odds of the baby’s surviving were slim.

That night we slept with the inert infant snuggled warmly between us. Early the next morning, Catrina climbed into bed with us for her morning hugs. Before long we heard our ten-month-old son, Jeremy, cry, and I went into his room, scooped him up, and brought him back into our bedroom. The five of us filled our king-sized bed. My husband began playfully tickling Catrina and Jeremy, and soon the three of them were laughing hysterically. Nam Soo Kim remained still in my arms. Then Catrina climbed onto my husband’s knee and begged, “Give me horsey ride!”

I held the quiet infant close and thought how sad it was that this baby had never known the joy of a family’s love. Tears felt warm on my cheeks as I whispered words of love to him. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a faint smile crease the corners of his tiny mouth. I wondered if I had imagined it, but then I saw his eyes move toward our laughing Catrina as she shouted, “Mama, Mama, baby happy, baby happy!” With no need for words, my husband gently took Nam Soo Kim and kissed him under the chin. Momentarily, weak sounds of laughter struggled from within his tiny body. I ran to the telephone. Our surgeon told us to bring the baby to the hospital immediately. Surgery could begin.

This was the first of several major operations our little son, whom we named Derek Kim, would endure over the next few years. He survived each one with the help of blessings, special prayers, and fasting in his behalf. The high medical costs of these surgeries brought a change in our life-style. We sold our luxurious home and other material things to pay the bills. My counseling career was replaced by nursing classes at our local college as I slipped into my new role as a home health-care provider. Many friends could not understand how we could give up so many of our material possessions. My feeble attempts to explain that worldly goods didn’t mean that much to us were difficult for them to understand, but to us a house is only a house. It takes a loving family to make it a home. Derek Kim was now our son, and he was worth every sacrifice.

A price tag cannot be put on the joy I felt as I helped this child with his first steps and his first prayers, or when I hear him say to me, “You are the best mommy in the whole wide world. I love you.” When his little arms squeeze me tightly, I know it has been worth every sacrifice. And as the years have passed, my heart has been full of joy as I have watched him walk to the pulpit during testimony meeting to bear testimony that he knows Heavenly Father and Jesus love him. Derek Kim’s little voice breaks with emotion, and tears come to his eyes when he speaks of his love for us and his Father in Heaven and of his commitment to return to Korea someday to teach the gospel to his people.

To those who still question my decision to go back into the “baby business,” let me share a poignant statement by Steven Grellet: “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow-creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” (The Home Book of Quotations, sel. Burton Stevenson, New York: Dodd Mead and Co., 1935, p. 1493.)

Yes, Derek Kim has changed our lives in many wonderful and satisfying ways. But, most important of all, he is no longer a forgotten child. He is a treasure to his family, his friends, and his Heavenly Father.

[illustration] Illustrated by Mitchell Heinz

Carole W. Hankal is Relief Society president in the Spokane Fifteenth Ward, Spokane Washington East Stake.