We’re Brian and Nancy Gehrung, and we have three children: Collin (22) and Shannon (21), who are Nancy's biological children, and Ava (11), who was born in Hengyang China. Ava has been home with us since June of 2011. These last five years with Ava as a family of five have been amazing and memorable, yet scary, heart-wrenching and life-changing. This fall, we will bring home our fourth child, Yang Xia Dan/“Dani” or Aliza, our second little love from China. Here is our story.
We met 12 years ago through a longtime mutual friend, dated for several years, and eventually married with Collin and Shannon right by our sides. A few years later, we started thinking about growing our family. We knew we wanted to adopt a child with Achondroplasia Dwarfism because we all have Achondroplasia too, just like the families on the TLC shows The Little Couple and Little People, Big World. Plus, through our own experiences growing up as "little people," we've learned firsthand that many people — and specifically children — with disabilities in some foreign countries are stigmatized and not given the love, care, and opportunities they deserve.
Ava turned 6 on June 25, 2011. She had a super-fun party, with lots of family and friends. A few days later, we received devastating news regarding Ava's health. Her doctor had ordered a brain CT scan because she was showing signs of possible neurological issues. Before we even returned home from Children's Hospital in Milwaukee, our phone rang. Our hearts sank as we heard the news: “The CT revealed Ava experienced a massive stroke in utero or at birth. The stroke destroyed 75% of the left side of her brain, it damaged her speech center, and left her with cerebral palsy and right-sided hemiparesis. She will probably always have cognitive and physical delays, and there is a strong possibility that she will develop seizures...” Our family was stunned, to say the least.
About a month later, we witnessed Ava have her 1st seizure with us. We soon learned, this was probably not her 1st seizure and probably not her last either. Over the next 3 years, Ava was prescribed a variety of anti-seizure medications, but none of the meds were able to control her seizues. Ava also underwent numerous tests to track and diagnose her seizures. Eventually, we learned too that Ava's brain was either always seizing or trying to seize. This put Ava at risk of SUDEP, Sudden Unexplained Death from Epilepsy. We were so scared for Ava. Then her neuro-team made a recommendation. They told us Ava was a good candidate for brain surgery to stop her seizures. That news took us a while to digest. The thought of Ava having brain surgery was gut wrenching for both of us, but we knew it was our best option. So, we made the tough decision to move forward with the surgery.
Ava had surgery in November of 2013. The surgery went smoothly, but the recovery period was very tough on Ava. She experienced excessive blood loss and required a blood transfusion. A few days later, she was diagnosed with a blood-clotting disorder. After she was initially discharged to go home, she had to be admitted five more times for more seizures, infections, and horrible migraines. All of this really wore Ava out. It took her six months to physically recover, and once she did, it was clear that a second surgery was needed because she was still having constant seizures. Thankfully, the excellent epilepsy team at Children's Hospital ordered more tests, which helped them plan that second surgery. After many prayers and sleepless nights, Ava’s team of doctors successfully stopped her seizures. She has been seizure-free since November of 2014.
In the summer of 2015, a happy, healthy, and finally seizure-free Ava started telling us she was bored and that she wanted a little brother or sister to play with. The idea of adopting again was already tugging at our hearts. As fate would have it, that August, we learned of a sweet, 2-year-old little girl with achondroplasia living in the same SWI that Ava was in, in Hengyang, China. At first, we were hesitant to move forward for this little girl because we are both almost 50, plus we were worried about how we would raise all of the funds for her adoption. With all of Ava’s medical needs over the last few years, we simply weren't in a good financial spot.
Aliza will be 3 this October. She has jet black hair, and the sweetest smile. Ava is so excited about being Aliza's big sister! She can't wait to fly back to China with her mom and dad to meet Aliza and visit the SWI to see her caregivers who love and miss her dearly. Until that time, Ava is keeping herself busy by making a list of all that she plans to teach her little sister once she is home, and by painting watercolor pictures for the room they will share.