When Priscilla Morse met her son Ryan at a Bulgarian orphanage in September 2014, the 7-year-old weighed just 8 pounds. Though she had seen Ryan’s adoption profile online, his condition was far worse in person. “I was afraid I was going to break him if I even touched him,” the Jackson, Tennessee–based mom of four tells Us Weekly. “If I put my index finger and middle finger together, they were bigger than his thigh. He was a skeleton with hair.”
Later that night, Morse, 33, says, she remembers thinking, "This kid is gonna die alone in his crib before I can can get back here. There is no way he’s gonna live long enough for the adoption papers to be processed.” Morse had reason to be concerned: Ryan suffers from a laundry list of medical issues, including microcephaly, cerebral palsy, club feet and scoliosis. And yet Ryan made it to Tennessee in November 2015.
“We literally went straight to the hospital after we landed,” says Morse. “Even the doctors were crying when they saw Ryan. I explained that there were rows and rows of kids just like him. There are mass graves of children who die in orphanages and nobody knows that it’s happening.”
Ryan — now 8 — was fitted with a feeding tube and has gained 15 pounds since joining the Morse family 13 months ago. “He’s learned to cry when he’s hurt or upset,” Morse tells Us. “That’s something orphans don’t do because nobody answers to them. But he’s at the point where he has learned, ‘If I am hungry, I can cry and somebody will feed me.’”
And he’s been bonding with his dad, David; brothers Dylan, 14, and Jack, 7; and sister McKenzie, 7, who has Down syndrome and was adopted from Russia in November 2012. “Ryan loves to go for rides in the car; he’s like, Woah, we’re going somewhere!” marvels Morse. “So I’ll just drive the kids around and we’ll maybe stop and get hot cocoas and look at Christmas lights. He squeals and stares out the window. He thinks it’s the greatest thing ever.”
But Ryan, who was born with dwarfism, still has a long road ahead. “It was seven years of total neglect,” Morse notes. “It’s not gonna be undone in two or three years, but we’re committed. Our job is to help him reach his full potential, whatever that may be. If he walks, great. If he talks, great. But if he doesn’t, we will love him just the same.”
Morse hopes that by sharing Ryan’s story she will inspire others to adopt special-needs children. “Ryan has brought more fulfillment to us than I think we could ever to him,” she tells Us. “He is a joy, a blessing — and not just just Ryan. All these kids who are languishing in orphanages, they are so worthy of a family.”
The Morse family posts regular updates to Ryan’s Facebook page.
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