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Kadner: A mission to adopt children in need

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Updated: June 3, 2013 6:14AM



Traci and Scott Heim are just your typical parents of 10 adopted children from three foreign countries.

Sveta, from Russia, who is now 15, was the first in 1998.

“We were living the American dream,” Traci recalled. “We had a big house in the Brookside Glen subdivision of Tinley Park, a Mercedes and we planned on having two kids. That was the plan.”

The couple had difficulty conceiving, and Traci began thinking about adoption.

“I wanted a family. Some people can’t deal with the idea of adoption and I get it,” she said. “But I realized family to me meant more than just giving birth to children.”

Through an adoption agency, the Heims found Sveta, and two years later, Andy, now 14, followed.

Why adopt children from foreign countries instead of those born in the United States?

“I had talked to people who waited years to adopt domestically,” Traci said. “And many of the children available for adoption came with problems that I wasn’t sure I was ready to handle at that time.

“We also wanted children who looked like us ethnically. We didn’t want it to seem obvious that they were adopted based on appearance. Of course, our views on all of that would later change.”

Traci said the big house and all the material stuff the family had accumulated began to “feel not right.”

“I can’t explain it,” she recalled. “I was just restless and uncomfortable. I felt we had to downsize.”

And so they planned to sell the big house and move to one about half the size, also in Tinley Park, where Scott is a police officer.

For seven years, “we had everything we ever wanted. The nice house in a wonderful suburb and two children,” Traci said.

In 2007, a friend of Traci’s who was trying to adopt asked her to come to Ethiopia with her.

“I had no plans of adopting any more children,” said Traci, who was working as a part-time special education assistant in a local school district at the time. “We were set. My life was perfect.”

While in Ethiopia, Traci was overwhelmed by the number of orphans in need, and she started paperwork to adopt once more.

“The Friday before Mother’s Day (2007), I was sent a photo and profile of Mel,” who was about 3 at the time, had chronic malaria and was recovering from the mumps, she said.

“Mel would be different,” Traci said. “He obviously would not look like us. But did it matter? He needed a family. He was an orphan in one of the poorest countries in the world.

“And you know what, it has actually been really cool to have a family where everybody doesn’t look the same.”

The following year, she was notified about siblings who were AIDS orphans in Ethiopia. She was told they were 8 and 10 years old but eventually discovered they were 10 and 12.

That’s how Biruk and Hanna came to Tinley Park in February 2009.

Traci became involved with an orphan advocacy organization, Project HOPEFUL, that educated and promoted HIV/AIDS orphans and other special-needs adoptions.

Around Father’s Day in 2010, some of her adopted children said, “we have three boys and two girls, we need another girl.”

Traci was in the process of trying to adopt a child named Anastasia when problems arose and she was sent a photograph of a Ukrainian toddler. Dasha, a cute little blonde with a ribbon in her hair, was HIV positive and had asthma.

“The stigma of having HIV is so terrible there that women come to the hospital, have their babies and just leave them,” Traci said. “That’s what had happened to Dasha.”

By the time Dasha came into her life, Traci said, she was no longer worried about dealing with a special-needs child.

“I just fell in love,” she said.

Around this time, she became director of FIG (Families in the Gap) under Project HOPEFUL, which attempts to link people who want to help with needy orphans in foreign lands.

On a mission trip to Ukraine, Traci encountered four siblings, ranging in age from 4 to 15, in need of adoption.

Her adopted children Sveta and Hannah came along on the trip and watched as Mom took photographs and recorded an interview with the children in hopes of encouraging people visiting the Project HOPEFUL website.

She asked the eldest, 15, what she wanted most, what she dreamed of in the future.

“She told me she wanted a family,” Traci said. “I thought she would be adopted right away. I thought someone would step forward.”

But as months passed, no one did.

“I feared that she would be kicked out of the orphanage at 16, handed a few dollars and sent on her way because that’s what happens there,” Traci said. “It is a hotbed of human sex trafficking, and I just felt she would end up in that looking for a way to earn a living.”

As Traci repeatedly lamented the fact that no one was stepping forward, Hannah kept saying, “Why don’t we be their family?

“It finally hit me we were their family,” Traci said. “I went to the basement, where Scott was building an extra bedroom for our two older girls, showed him the photograph and said, “It’s us.”

She said Scott looked at the photo, shrugged his shoulders and replied, “I’ll build another room.”

It actually took several months, but that’s how Samantha, 17, Alex, 13, Alina, 11, and Vika, 6, came to join the Heims’ other six adopted children.

Asked how they could afford all the travel and cost of adoption, Traci replied, “We once had a diverse investment portfolio. Now we have a diverse family.”

They liquidated a lot of their assets and recently have been helped by contributions solicited by friends over the Internet.

How will they spend Mother’s Day?

“Sometimes we go on a picnic or to a buffet. This past Sunday, we taught the kids how to play softball.

Maybe we’ll do that again.

“Whatever it is, I won’t be cooking.”



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