BROOKSVILLE — Cindy Boyer was browsing through online profiles of children with no families when she stumbled upon a little girl from Russia.
An adoption advocacy organization, Reece's Rainbow, had named the girl Adalyn. She is a year and a half old, has short hair, dark eyes, and a bilateral cleft lip, gum and palate.
Cindy stopped scrolling. She stared at the picture.
Adalyn's situation was all too familiar to her.
"Immediately, I knew," she said. "This is our baby."
On July 16, 1991, on the operating table at Brooksville Regional Hospital, Cindy Boyer lay beneath a blue drape, prepped for her third caesarean section. At 10:30 a.m., the doctor delivered a boy.
When Dennis Boyer thinks back to the birth, he remembers "the shock," he said, "the 'Oh my gosh.' "
The boy, whom the Boyers named Alex, was born with a birth defect called cleft lip.
"In the formation of the child in the womb, there are processes" that fuse the lip, gum and palate, "that give you the lip and gums that we all know," said Dr. Pedro Soler, a plastic surgeon in Tampa. Sometimes, those parts of the face don't fuse the way they should, he said, and "we have no real idea" why it happens.
"We were happy we had a baby that was alive," said Cindy, 55, a stay-at-home mom whose two prior pregnancies had ended in miscarriage.
But "it's like, what the heck?" said her husband, Dennis, 59, a funeral assistant at Turner Funeral Homes.
No one had predicted the birth defect.
The Boyers found a surgeon to repair Alex's lip. They cared for their son while he recovered. The experience prepared them for what they didn't know they would face: the births of two more sons with similar birth defects.
"Alex (now 21) had the lip," said Cindy. Austin, 19, had a cleft gum. Addison, 17, had a bilateral cleft lip, gum and palate — "the exact same birth defect" as Adalyn's.
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The Boyers, who have been married for 36 years and have lived in Brooksville for almost 32, had talked about adoption before. They have friends who have adopted, and some who are now in the process of adopting.
"I was adopted," Dennis said. "My brother and sisters were adopted. (Adoption is) a great idea. But we were reproducing pretty well by ourselves."
The couple have eight children, ages 33 to 16, and "I've had nine miscarriages," Cindy said.
While the Boyers were still having children, the time didn't feel right for adoption. But, physically, Cindy said, she no longer can conceive.
So "when Cindy approached me about Adalyn, it was a no brainer," Dennis said.
With Addison, the Boyers already had navigated the kind of care Adalyn's special needs will require. Addison, however, was younger than Adalyn when the process of correcting his birth defect began.
"They like to begin surgery at 2 weeks old," Cindy said. "Addison already had three surgeries by his first birthday."
He has had a total of nine and can remember two of them.
While he watched cartoons and received anesthesia at the hospital once before surgery, he "tried to stay awake," he said. He remembers waking up the next day and receiving gifts.
He remembers a bone graft — when doctors took part of his hip bone and put it in his lip, he said.
"That's the only one that actually hurt," he said.
Soler said the number of surgeries a child endures depends on the extent of the defect. More extensive defects require a mouthpiece, the bone graft and several other surgeries, including nose surgery when the child becomes a teenager.
For Adalyn, Cindy said, the process she faces will be better endured if she has parents.
"I can't imagine a child going through surgery without a mother and a father," she said.
Better still, Dennis said, is a set of parents who have been through this exact experience.
The Boyers already have craniofacial surgeons — the ones who operated on all three of their sons, Dennis said.
They have an orthodontist and a dentist, who Adalyn also will need to see. And while Addison's birth defect didn't affect his hearing or his speech, the Boyers are preparing for that possibility with Adalyn.
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When Cindy looks at pictures of Adalyn, she sees sparkling eyes and little hands.
"I see my baby daughter," she said. "I see an urgency to get her home to get her surgery done."
But to do that still requires some work.
"Paperwork, passports, birth certificates," Cindy said.
The Boyers are working with an adoption agency called Global Adoption Services Inc., based in Bel Air, Md. The family awaits completion of their home study and word that it's time to fly to Russia to meet Adalyn. After that, all they'll need will be permission from immigration to bring her home.
"I have a job," Dennis said. "I have to worry about (travel) delays. I'm reserving as much vacation time as possible and begging the mercy of the company."
Plus, in Russia, men 60 and older cannot adopt. Dennis' 60th birthday is in February.
And then there are the finances.
"We had the $250 for the application," Cindy said.
The Boyers are working to raise the rest.
They have received donations from local kids and families, gifts as big as $1,000 and as small as $5. Every donation helps, but the family still needs more. So the Boyers have partnered with another adoptive family to raise money.
"(Adoption) is costly," said Becca Wylupek, 45, of Brooksville.
She and her husband, Quincy, friends of the Boyers, are in the process of adopting a 9-year-old girl named Sasha from Ukraine.
The Wylupeks and the Boyers have planned an online auction fundraiser, and the proceeds will benefit both adoptions. Both couples said they trust that God will carry them over each hurdle — financial or otherwise.
In the meantime, the Boyers aren't worried.
"I know God gave (Adalyn) to us," Cindy said. "He'll work out the rest of the details."
Arleen Spenceley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6235.