Sunday, March 4, 2012
Armenian Adoption tradjedy turns positive for family of Arianna
PLEASE DONATE TO THE PAROS FOUNDATION, THEY ARE PUTTING IN A NEW GARDEN PLAY AREA AT THE NORK ORPHANAGE.
After taking a few bites of her pink Cake Pop, Arianna Spiglanin wandered away from her mom's table at Starbucks.
Three years old and curious, the dark-haired girl wearing skinny jeans and tennis shoes wasn't up for staying in one place as her mother, Lauren Mahakian Spiglanin, sipped her coffee.
They are regulars at this Rolling Hills Estates Starbucks and another up the street, where they've spent time since Arianna was a baby.
And so when store manager Paul Romo walked out from behind the counter, Arianna rolled over to see him. He bent down to talk to her, and she smiled back from her shiny purple walker.
Arianna was 9 months old when her mother and father, Tom Spiglanin, brought her home to Rancho Palos Verdes from an orphanage in Yerevan, Armenia.
Having tried unsuccessfully to have a child on their own, the couple decided on adoption. Lauren Spiglanin suggested Armenia, given that her family is Armenian and her sister adopted her son from the country a decade ago.
It was a long process just getting the paperwork in order. There were background checks and financial reviews, letters of recommendation, pages of documents needing translation - for a hefty cost - all leading up to a review by the Armenian government.
That all began at the start of 2007.
It wasn't until late December 2008 that the prospect of adopting a little girl became real with a call from a facilitator they'd hired to assist them in Armenia.
The baby had been born on Nov. 28, 2008; her birth mother had died a week later.
"That was the call we were waiting for," said Lauren Spiglanin, 46. "The facilitator told us to come in March."
It was the first time both she and her husband, 53, had visited the country. They arrived at night to bitter cold temperatures, checking into a rundown hotel the facilitator had recommended to them. Nonetheless, the snowy weather and less
Lauren and Tom Spiglanin adopted Arianna as an infant from an Armenian orphanage but weren't aware she has cerebral palsy. Arianna and her mother spend a lot of time at Starbucks in Rolling Hills Estates where the staff, including manager Paul Romo, have gotten to know them. (Steve McCrank/Daily Breeze)
than ideal lodging conditions didn't temper their excitement.
"It felt really magical," Spiglanin said. "I felt so at peace here."
Their first visit to see the baby they would name Arianna Rose - after their mothers, Anna and Rose - was at a hospital a few days after they'd arrived. At the time, Spiglanin said, they'd been told the baby wasn't eating well.
"We go to the hospital and they bring her to us," Spiglanin said. "So cute. Her first smile was to Tom."
Arianna was born premature - a month, they'd been told - and her single mother had died from a brain aneurism, Spiglanin said.
The facilitator introduced them to the baby's aunt, she said, but even still they learned only "bits and pieces" of her medical history.
That first visit to Armenia would be followed by three more within the next few months before the Spiglanins would become parents to a little girl with big brown eyes framed by long lashes.
But it wasn't until August 2009 - after the adoption was finalized - that the couple got some more answers about their baby's medical background.
"Our last night here, our facilitator left an envelope at the hotel," Spiglanin said.
Inside were medical records that indicated the birth mother's placenta was becoming detached, cutting Arianna's supply of oxygen, she said. The papers said the baby had heavy asphyxia and acute breath insufficiency.
"Basically, they're saying that it's cerebral palsy," Spiglanin said.
"She was not up front with us at all about Arianna," she said of the facilitator, whom she would not name. "It all kind of makes sense now. ... Sometimes we were together, the aunt was very quiet."
And more, they began to suspect why Arianna had been bundled in several layers of clothing - to make her look bigger, perhaps - and to wonder more about why she had been in the hospital during their first visit.
"We got some documents, but it wasn't the complete medical report," Spiglanin said. "We took a video that we had the doctors here review. They said she looked alert. She definitely looked malnourished. No one ever raised a question of cerebral palsy."
The new parents fault the
Lauren and Tom Spiglanin adopted Arianna as an infant from an Armenian orphanage but weren't aware she has cerebral palsy. (Steve McCrank / Staff Photographer)
woman who they'd believed was helping them.
"We don't talk to her," Spiglanin said. "It turned out she was friends with the aunt. She wanted to do good for her friend."
Cerebral palsy is a condition caused by injuries or abnormalities of the brain that can result in the tightening of muscles and joints and also muscle weakness. That can lead to developmental delays in crawling, sitting and walking.
Once home, a pediatrician told the Spiglanins that Arianna's condition was caused by a midbrain injury.
She was born more than two months premature, her mother said, which they also discovered after they returned from Armenia.
The weeks and months that followed their homecoming would be filled with doctors' visits and therapy sessions. In October 2009, Spiglanin went back to work as a senior administrative analyst at El Segundo City Hall - a job she later lost as the town dealt with a budget crisis.
Her husband, a scientist with two grown children, is typically in control and calm, she said. The outspoken and confident Spiglanin struggled with depression.
"I remember saying, `Don't worry, Arianna, Mommy will take care of everything,"' she said. "We had 13 appointments a week. I was depressed on the inside but not showing it on the outside because I won't do that."
So Spiglanin sought help for herself, too, spending 15 months in therapy.
Her time off allowed her to throw her energy into encouraging Arianna to hold her head up, strengthen her neck and abdominal muscles and learn to get around in a walker - which she got on New Year's Day, 2011.
"It's about building the muscle, but also about rewiring her brain," Spiglanin said.
Arianna visits a chiropractor and acupuncturist, takes equestrian and aquatic therapy lessons and goes to classes at The Little Gym in Torrance.
"Ari just amazes me every day," said gym director Claire Koeppe, who has watched her learn to sit up, stand by holding onto a bar and roll sideways down an incline.
"She is such a happy girl. I don't think I've ever seen her frustrated. If she doesn't want to do something, she'll just sit back," she said. "(But) she loves being up high. ... She's a risk-taker."
Last fall, Arianna started a half-day preschool program for special-needs students through the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District.
Arianna mostly babbles rather than saying individual words, and still relies on her parents to feed her. For baths, she sits in a chair inside the tub.
But her mother said she's noticed significant improvements in her development since school began.
"She's just so much more energetic. She's holding her head up higher. She's reaching for things more," Spiglanin said. "She's a lot more curious. Eye-hand coordination is up, and that's because of school."
For Arianna's third birthday, her parents threw the Dora the Explorer and Wonder Pets fan a party, inviting employees from her favorite Starbucks shops.
"You see other kids, and you kind of ask yourself, why?" Spiglanin said. "Sometimes you kind of think, is she ever going to walk on her own?
"She'll be all right, because I get her the best of everything," she said.
The Spiglanins' experience adopting Arianna left them feeling deceived by their adoption facilitator, but Lauren Spiglanin said she doesn't fault the director at the state-run Nork orphanage, which houses infants to children 6 years old. "She thought we knew" about the medical history, Spiglanin said.
Nor does she fault Arianna's aunt, she said, as she believes the woman wanted what was best for the baby.
Part of Spiglanin's work these days is raising money for a water playground with a wading pool, flower beds and walkways that will replace an outdoor space at the orphanage filled with weeds and an old picnic bench - a spot where prospective parents could visit with children.
In the summers, when the air in Yerevan is thick and humid, the children could use the area to cool off, Spiglanin said.
She's fundraising through the nonprofit Paros Foundation, and already has about $4,000 to put toward the $10,000 price tag.
She hopes to raise more through an online auction later this month of a donated blue topaz and diamond pendant on an omega chain from The Jewelry Source in El Segundo. Store owner Brenda Newman, who knew Spiglanin when she worked across the street at City Hall, said she was taken by the couple's story.
"I'm very driven by the parents. They're the ones that have really done it for me. I'm driven by their passion," Newman said.
"They had no idea what happened before they adopted this wonderful baby. ... This is my way of sort of giving back to them."
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