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Within reach of adoption, toddler dies while in foster care

Aedyn Agminalis died Dec. 11 while under the care of the state. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office is investigating his death.
Published Dec. 18, 2016

TAMPA — After about five months in foster care, and just weeks away from a new home with adoptive parents in North Carolina, little Aedyn Agminalis was rushed to the emergency room.

The 17-month-old boy arrived at St. Joseph's Hospital for Children unresponsive and with signs of head injuries, according to information given to his adoption agency by a social worker. He suffered cardiac arrest, bleeding on the brain and acute respiratory failure.

The small boy was hooked up to a life-support system but doctors could find no brain activity, according to Artha Healton, Aedyn's biological mother. The youngster died Dec. 11 after doctors turned off the machine.

His death is now the subject of a criminal investigation by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. The Florida Department of Children and Families has assigned a critical incident team to look into the death because the boy died on the state's watch.

"The loss of this child is absolutely devastating and we're grieving with all those who loved him," DCF Secretary Mike Carroll told the Tampa Bay Times in an email.

Officials would not comment on the investigation. Aedyn was living in a foster home licensed by the service, A Door of Hope. His case was handled by Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services. Both organizations are subcontractors of Eckerd Kids, a non-profit contracted to run the county's child welfare system.

"We will be doing everything we can to support the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office investigation," said Adrienne Drew, a spokeswoman for Eckerd.

Aedyn's death has raised questions about whether the child could have been moved out of foster care and adopted sooner.

His biological parents signed papers consenting to the adoption on Nov. 18. Had all gone as planned, the boy likely would have spent Christmas with his new parents: Colleen Kochanek and her wife, Stephanie Norris.

They have been together for 17 years and married in 2006. Kochanek works as an attorney and consultant. Norris is a civil engineer. They own a home in North Carolina and are the parents of Riley, a 4-year-old girl they adopted at birth.

They wanted to move ahead as quickly as possible with a placement court hearing that would allow them to take Aedyn home. They paid extra to have FBI checks expedited.

But Eckerd case managers would not schedule the hearing because they were waiting for a report that proved the adoptive parents were not listed on a state child abuse registry.

That was a check that the couple already passed when they adopted Riley and passed again in 2015 when they decided to look for another child to adopt. But because more than a year had elapsed, they were required to repeat it.

"If they have everything else why couldn't we go forward pending receipt of that document?" Kochanek said. "This is so soul-crushing to us; he could have been in our care."

When the report finally arrived Dec. 5, Eckerd requested the court hearing, but because of Christmas it was not scheduled to take place until Jan. 10.

Jeanne Tate, an attorney representing Tampa adoption agency Heart of Adoptions, planned to ask that the hearing be moved up so Aedyn could be in his new home for Christmas. Learning that he died in foster care left her feeling sick in the stomach.

"These kind of cases definitely should be treated with more expediency; these children need to get out of foster care at the earliest possible time frame," Tate said.

Aedyn was taken into foster care in August after a child protective investigator visited his home because of a report made to the state's child abuse hotline.

Aedyn did not like wearing a diaper and would frequently take if off, said Healton, his mother. The investigator found feces on the floor and was also concerned that a hookah pipe and other dangerous objects lay within reach of the boy, Healton said.

She said the child was in no danger and that she planned to steam-clean the carpet that night.

"They made me out to be a horrible, neglectful parent when I was doing my absolute best," Healton said.

Aedyn's nutrition was another concern for the investigator. The parents could not get the child to eat solid food. They tried to compensate by adding baby food into his formula, Healton said.

The investigator told them they must have the home cleaned by the next day. According to Healton, she asked if the child could be taken into foster care that day, in part because she thought the child would get professional help adapting to solid food.

Healton and her husband, Brynn Agminalis, had already been talking about putting the child up for adoption. The couple, who moved to Florida from Kentucky in May, both work as freelance artists. Healton, 27, designs fantasy characters for websites. Agminalis, 23, works in web design and computer repair.

Healton said they were both "free spirits" and felt tied down by parenthood.

"We didn't feel like we were ready for children," Healton said. "We were struggling and stressed so badly that it was affecting our health."

Because of confidentiality laws, DCF would not comment on how Aedyn ended up in state custody.

Healton got a phone call about 1 a.m. on Dec. 8. Aedyn had been taken to the hospital. She and her husband rushed to him.

The foster mother, who they do not know, was there, too.

"She didn't speak to me or hold eye contact."

The foster mother had told officials Aedyn experienced a seizure-like activity and fell over, according to Healton.

Doctors told Healton and her husband there was evidence of bleeding in Aedyn's brain. On Dec. 9 at 9 a.m., the doctors confirmed that their child was brain dead, Healton said.

"I was unable to hold him because he was hooked up to the life support. I was able to hold his hand and touch him and tell him goodbye even though he couldn't hear me."

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times

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