Ethiopian suspension on international adoptions has West Michigan family worried for soon-to-be-son with heart condition

Posted at 8:58 PM, May 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-08 22:37:55-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich,-- A family in West Michigan says they are up against the clock after their international adoption, just two weeks away from being finalized, was stopped in its tracks. The boy they’re hoping to call their son is a 4-year-old with a heart condition. The heart defect's long-lasting implications are still unknown.

The Swiftneys are an experienced family when it comes to international adoptions in Ethiopia. It was going to be their second adoption from the country. They adopted now-4-year-old Declan when he was just months old. The Swiftneys hoped the second time around would be quick and seamless after their first adoption from Ethiopia, but it’s been anything but easy.

“Bonding happens the younger the child comes and the better bond,” said Kate Swiftney when talking about the many reasons she wished her soon-to-be-son, Til, was already here. “He was our son the minute we accepted a referral for him.”

Kate and her husband Corey said adoption was always in the plan for them. They have two biological daughters of their own, then they adopted Declan, and now they are trying to adopt Tilahun, or Til, as they like to call him for short.

“I saw a post on Facebook, a little boy who had a heart condition, and they were looking for help. So we called our adoption agency, and asked them what can we do? Do you need financial support? Our caseworker laughed and said ‘It’s really funny you called because what do you think about adopting him?'”

It only took Kate and Corey 30 minutes to say yes. The biggest reason is because they wanted to help Til with his heart condition, and give him a loving family.

“His heart isn’t pumping blood like a normal heart should. It isn’t usually something you see this far along in age because this is something you take care of at birth here in the United States. So the fact that he is 4 years old and still has this condition is a little scary because we don’t know how long he can survive with it,” said Kate.

Til also gets clubbing in his feet and toes, tires very quickly when playing, and has lots of bruising on his legs because of the condition. The Swiftneys are willing to do whatever they have to do to get him well.

However, they just recently received the major blow to their plan by the Ethiopian government.

“Until further notice they have ceased to complete any adoptions, and that’s all we know,” said Kate.

International adoptions have gone down since 2004, when they were at their peak. According to the State Department, in 2004 there were more than 22,000 visas issued for international adoptions, but in 2016 that number was only 5,600.

The Swiftneys adoption agency, Adoption Associates, is for domestic infant adoptions and international adoptions. The agency has a location in Jenison.

They have had an international Ethiopian adoption program for more than 10 years, placing 370 Ethiopian children with U.S. families. Adoption Associates told FOX 17 News that the Swiftneys are not alone.

“We have 26 families that are matched with children already,” said executive director Michelle Dykema.

All the families are at different stages of adoption at this point. The agency doesn’t have any specific information on why the suspension is taking place, even with staff on the ground in Ethiopia.

“We haven’t heard definitively why this suspension now. It was announced by the prime minster’s office in Ethiopia, and we heard it’s at least 40 days now. Historically, Ethiopia has suspended processing for things like needing to investigate the activities of a particular orphanage,” said Dykema.

As a last chance effort, Corey, Kate’s Husband, flew to Ethopia last week to try to advocate for Til, and get in front of a judge to try to change someone’s mind. So far, Corey hasn’t had much luck.

However, he did get to meet Til for the first time. He told his wife it was “amazing.” Corey told Kate he was nervous to meet Til, but when they saw each other they had so much fun. He told Kate it’s heartbreaking to leave him every time he visits.

“He has been to the embassy and talking to lawyers and social workers. I think he is making headway but it is hard to tell in an adoption, especially in another country,” said Kate.

While Kate, Declan, and his two sisters patiently wait for their new brother, they can’t help but wonder how many days, months, years it will take.

“It’s like having a baby and then the hospital taking him away and saying ‘I’m not sure when you can see him,' because when you take a referral that baby is yours," said Kate.

Kate is encouraging others to contact their congressman about this issue. Her husband is there until at least this Tuesday to see what he can do.

We contacted Congressman Justin Amash’s office about the family's situation. They are not allowed to comment on private adoptions.