DUNEDIN — A Dunedin couple have succeeded in their fight to bring home their dying adopted son from the Democratic Republic of Congo, say advocates who have been assisting them.
Ten-month-old Cruz is among hundreds of legally adopted Congolese children barred from leaving the African country because of a September 2013 moratorium on exit permits surrounding international adoptions.
The implications are dire for about 30 children, like Cruz, who are critically ill and in need of immediate medical attention.
In October, his adoptive mom, Andrea Stewart, traveled to Congo to plead with officials in person for a medical exception.
Nearly four weeks later, officials deemed Cruz and 10 other children certified by three Congolese physicians to be so ill that they need to be evacuated to the United States for treatment unavailable there. Their ailments include HIV, heart and lung defects, and seizure disorders.
On Thursday, Cruz, whose rare respiratory disease is expected to kill him unless he receives heart and lung transplants within six months, became the third to receive an exit letter. United States government officials are pushing Congolese leaders to issue the remainder and to examine 18 additional sick children.
Advocates say Congo's reason for the exit ban has repeatedly shifted from concerns about the welfare of adoptees in foreign countries to worries about the integrity of its own adoption system and more.
"The real obstacle has been getting the medical assessments done, because adoption is such a political issue in that country right now," said Kelly Dempsey, general counsel for Both Ends Burning, a nonprofit rallying to assist the children and their families. "It's hard to find physicians who are willing to examine these children and prepare reports."
Mother and child are scheduled to arrive at Tampa International Airport this evening — sparing Andrea, her husband, Chris, and their three young biological children from plans to uproot and move to Congo.
"We are beyond blessed with the honor of being Cruz's family. For now, we will focus on his health and where the next steps take us into caring for orphans around the world," the couple said in a statement released through U.S. Rep. David Jolly's office.
Dempsey said a medical team is in place to immediately admit Cruz to a hospital as soon as he touches American soil.
"For Cruz, this will mean the difference between life and death," she said. "Andrea's fondest wish was to be home and with Cruz in the hospital for Thanksgiving, and I think she's going to get that wish. I am just thrilled for them."
Meanwhile, Dempsey said her group, as well as federal authorities, remain on the case: "As wonderful as this is for Cruz and the Stewarts, I know they will continue to fight for those kids too, because there are hundreds more waiting."