The Province

Adopted orphans brought special challenges

Early neglect of Romanian children taken into Canadian families is still taking its toll

- DENE MOORE THE CANADIAN PRESS

Their stories are by turn tragic and triumphant.

After the Iron Curtain was torn down almost 25 years ago, childless western couples flooded into Romania looking to adopt. Suzanne McFarlane and her husband were among 1,400 Canadian families who did.

McFarlane first saw Jennica from a taxicab on Feb. 14, 1991, as the little girl wandered, alone, along a backcountr­y road. She weighed 19 pounds and McFarlane thought she was an infant. In fact, she was almost three years old. They left the country on Feb. 28, mother and daughter.

“It’s been quite a journey,” says McFarlane.

Jennica, who had been in the orphanage most of her life, couldn’t sit up or feed herself. Her legs didn’t bend because of the daily “vitamin” injections given by orphanage staff, which also fuelled an AIDS epidemic among the children.

“I knew there would be a delay. I just didn’t expect the emotional delay to last forever,” McFarlane says now. “You believe that love and good food can fix anything. And it can’t.”

Now 26, Jennica is developmen­tally delayed, has a form of autism and suffers from attachment disorder. The list goes on.

Two years ago, while Jennica was living at home, she tried to strangle her mother. McFarlane’s husband, Roland Ferdynus, was home, heard the commotion and pulled the girl off. Jennica now lives in an adult group home.

“She wasn’t just doing this to be nasty,” says McFarlane, now 64. “She really didn’t know how to love us back.”

A few months after the McFarlanes adopted Jennica, Sig Stark adopted Jonathan with her husband, Lorne. The Starks already had three children.

When he came home to Edmonton, they weren’t sure if Jonathan spoke Romanian or Hungarian. He had the language skills of an 18-month-old, though he was at least three and half.

As a child, Jonathan, now 27, would have fits of rage, sometimes tossing around furniture that weighed more than he did. It took seven years for him to be diagnosed with frontal lobe epilepsy, with seizures, extraordin­ary strength and anger.

He is now taking medication and hasn’t had a seizure in a decade.

Stark now believes that such neglect in early life can never be repaired, although she thinks it’s still worth trying.

“Each child has value. They all have gifts.”

 ?? — POSTMEDIA NEWS FILES ?? Suzanne McFarlane, Jennica and Roland Ferdynus, left to right, enjoy a summer day in their back yard garden in 2006. Suzanne and Roland adopted Jennica from Romania.
— POSTMEDIA NEWS FILES Suzanne McFarlane, Jennica and Roland Ferdynus, left to right, enjoy a summer day in their back yard garden in 2006. Suzanne and Roland adopted Jennica from Romania.

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