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Family’s Love of Food Helps Transform Malnourished Son
“I’m worried about your son.” These were the first words John and I heard when we arrived at the orphanage in Vietnam where our son was living to meet him for the first time. We, too, had been worried but had no idea the orphanage director felt the same way.
Our travel had gotten delayed due to changes in paperwork processing by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Just before we found out we’d be delayed, our son’s health had taken a turn for the worse. He had started showing some developmental delays. We became very concerned and expressed this to our adoption agency, Holt International. We talked with other adoptive families with whom we had connected through support groups online, and we decided to request that our son be seen by a certain doctor who was highly recommended by one of those families who’d also adopted from Vietnam.
Holt agreed to forward our request to the orphanage, with no guarantees that it would happen. Culturally, they said, the orphanage staff may not understand our request for a specific doctor and may decide to have him seen by a doctor of their choice. We were very pleased that the orphanage staff agreed to take him to the doctor we preferred. The diagnosis: Failure to Thrive, 3rd degree malnourishment. Those were some of the scariest words we’d ever heard coming from a doctor.
The treatment plan was for our son to be put on vitamin D supplements and given a special formula. We were hopeful that these interventions would help as we waited to be able to bring our son home, but it was the longest three-month wait of our lives, as we had no idea how long it would take. When the word finally came that our paperwork had been processed and approved, we were anxious to meet and hold our son for the first time, to be able to assess his condition for ourselves, and to get him home into the more nurturing environment we felt he so desperately needed. Still, the greeting of concern from the orphanage director caught us a bit off guard.
There was so much uncertainty in the early days with our son about his health and well-being. When we picked him up for the first time, he felt as light as a feather. At 14.5 months, he weighed only 14.5 pounds. He could not even sit without support and had only begun starting to try to crawl. He ran a fever off and on from the time we took him into our care until we got home six days later.
Since bringing our son home, we have watched an amazing transformation take place in his life. With lots of love, the help from an early interventionist, and under the care and advice of his pediatrician and other professionals, our son has made tremendous gains in his physical and emotional development. He was crawling within weeks and walking within six months. His personality has blossomed from a shell-shock state into a vibrant, fun-loving, happy state. We still notice some minor delays but overall he is a healthy 6-year-old.
Our experiences with his nutrition and mealtimes have been challenging from day one. We were traumatized at some level by our son’s condition. We believe that he had given up emotionally and was depressed, even as a baby. We wonder if he would have survived had he stayed in the orphanage, so we felt a sense of urgency in getting him good nutrition.
We have had to work on our approach, and perhaps modify our parenting style some, as we have learned about the long-term effects of malnourishment and some of the early experiences that may have contributed to it. Listening to a board member from the Spoon Foundation during the webinar, Food for Thought, by Adoption Learning Partners gave us a much greater understanding of our son’s background.
To add to the already challenging issues with mealtimes and eating, we have to monitor his diet day-to-day due to food sensitivities that aggravate his eczema. We are thankful, however, that we do not have to completely restrict certain foods as with allergies. John’s degree in Culinary Arts from Johnson and Wales University has paid off for us tremendously, as a family, in helping us develop new recipes that are “cleaner” with regard to the food sensitivities.
Just a few weeks ago, his tonsils were removed. He had not been gaining weight well, and his pediatrician had us see an ENT, who said his tonsils were huge and suspected he was having trouble eating due to their size. The surgery and recovery went very smoothly, and as hoped, he is eating better!
In 2011 we began a food blog, The Saturday Evening Pot, to share our love for food and family-favorite recipes with others. Some of our favorite low-allergenic recipes as a family have been Turkey Leek Burgers, Crockpot Turkey Meatloaf, Lamb, Black Bean and Sweet Potato Jumble, and Carob Cashew Butter Bars. If you are interested in Vietnamese food, we also have a recipe for Beef and Pineapple Vietnamese Rolls on there, and we plan to add more Vietnamese recipes in the future.
We also have been learning ways to make eating more fun for our son, especially with his entrance last year into preschool, when he started taking a lunchbox to school. On his first day of school, we made him a smiley face sandwich for his lunchbox, inspired by his frequent question lately, “Are you happy?” He is such a joy to us and likes to make us happy. What more could a parent want in a son?!
You can find more kid-friendly, lunchbox ideas, and much more at our blog, The Saturday Evening Pot (See Kid-Friendly, Lunchbox, and Low-Allergenic). We also recently published an eBook, What to Cook for Dinner for Picky Eaters, with tips, recipes and resources for parents struggling with a picky eater.
The Nutrition Profiles on this site express the views of the individual authors and not SPOON Foundation. SPOON Foundation has not conducted any independent verification of the information contained in the Nutrition Profiles. As a result, SPOON Foundation makes no representations concerning, and assumes no responsibility for, the accuracy of the information or the appropriateness of advice contained in the Nutrition Profiles. You are encouraged to confirm any information obtained from the Nutrition Profiles with other sources, and review all information regarding any medical condition or treatment with your child’s physician.