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On October 17, 2005 we met Annika for the first time at the Taldykorgan Baby House in Kazakhstan. She was 2 ½ years old and had been at the Baby House since age 1 month. We were told that Annika had severe reflux when she was a baby and some intestinal blockage. Apparently, when Annika was started on solid foods at approximately 6 months of age, she threw everything up at every meal. So she was put back on a completely liquid diet until her surgery at 22 months of age. Because her liquid diet consisted of only milk in the amount that an infant would receive, she was lethargic and unresponsive most of the time. Due to her lethargy, she was moved from the infant room to the special needs room at the Baby House where she remained until just before her surgery. She had surgery in February of 2005 and spent 1 month in the Hospital in Almaty.
Now keep in mind that Annika was 9lb 1oz at birth. At 22 months of age she was only 18lbs. So in two years she had only doubled her birth weight. After her surgery and hospital stay Annika was moved directly into the mainstream toddler room and she began eating the same as the other children. When we arrived at the Baby House eight months after her surgery she was 32lbs and 33” in height. Talk about a chubby toddler! We were told not to overfeed her as she still would throw up on occasion and that she often overate (do you blame her?). I will never forget when they gave me her daily food menu so that we could keep her on this during her transition period from the Baby House to our apartment in Taldykorgan: Porridge in the morning with milk (horse milk mostly), either yogurt or a piece of fruit for snack, a piece of bread and Russian soup (minus the meat) along with juice for lunch and porridge and milk again for dinner. Wow! That is a lot of carbs, I thought. No wonder she is 32 lbs.
So off we went back to Oregon and immediately went to our pediatrician who had been researching international adoption related medical issues while we were gone. She did a battery of tests and said that although Annika was, shall we say plump, she was extremely dehydrated and very malnourished. Our Dr. gave us guidelines on what and how much we should feed her. She believed that she would mostly grow in height. And that she did. She grew 4 inches in the first 6 months and almost 7 inches the first year. She has grown a total of 15 inches since we brought her home just over 4 years ago. Another interesting thing is what the Dr. found in one of her blood tests. It showed a critically high level of iron. She asked if I knew if the Baby House had been giving her supplements. I thought back and remembered twice seeing them pull Annika and another girl aside to give them enormous sized spoonfuls of a thick black liquid. Without our interpreter there at the time I could not ask what it was. The Dr. said she believed it was liquid iron (possibly in toxic doses). She explained that if that was not the source of her high iron levels that she probably had a serious genetic disease. Over the next 6 weeks we were instructed to restrict iron-rich foods and told not to give her any vitamins with iron in them. Her next blood tests came back normal. What a relief. We then were able to continue feeding her all the foods we had before and her levels have remained within normal limits. So while the Baby House I am sure thought they were helping her out by giving her iron supplements, it could have proved detrimental for her. I know they were only trying to do their best with what they had.
Once Annika was home and had stabilized at a healthy nutritional level and weight, I started looking at some behavioral issues much closer. Through much trial and error and a lot of research I discovered that cow’s milk was not a good choice for Annika. She would bloat up and complain that her belly hurt and she was chronically constipated. Knowing that she was on camel and horse milk at the Baby House, I started looking for something other than a diary-based product. I settled on a combination of rice milk and soy milk. She does great on either of these. Most of her constipation issues have gone away and she seldom complains that her belly hurts. Another thing I noticed was that about 20 to 30 minutes after she ate refined sugar, she would have uncontrollable mood swings. She became angry and easily agitated. We started playing around with different sugar sources and found that it was not the sweetness that caused her mood swings but actually the refined sugar. Through trial and error we discovered that agave nectar, Xylitol, and cane juice do not have this adverse effect on her. Annika also has some trouble maintaining steady blood sugar levels. Again this has been greatly improved with keeping her consumption of refined sugar to the bare minimum. Now whether this has anything to do with her early nutrition at the Baby House I don’t think we will ever know, but it sure was a breakthrough for us and for her. Annika is now an energetic, happy, and bright little girl who loves life to the fullest.
- Candice Hirt
Read more about the diet in Kazakhstan, including common foods and recipes: http://adoptionnutrition.org/nutrition-by-country/kazakhstan/
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