Adopting a child is a gracious, heartwarming gesture; one that comes with a hefty load of responsibility. If you’re willing to take on that grand task, adoption could save a child from the stresses and emotional weight of living in the foster care system. But what if said care system doesn’t take your heroic efforts seriously?
Single Brit Ben Carpenter was determined to achieve his grandiose goal to father a herd of adopted children on his own, specifically ones with special needs. On paper, it seemed impossible, but Ben’s ambition was real; all he needed was for someone to believe in him.
Some men choose to go about their twenties with overt ferocity, having nothing but partying and fun on the mind (with maybe a dash of career ambition). But Ben Carpenter was a bit different than your average twenty-something-year-old dude.
You see, Ben was always an old soul, having consistently dreamed of being a father rather than, say, a football player. “Even at the age of 21 I knew I wanted to be a father as soon as possible,” Ben had confessed to the Mirror.
As weird as it may sound to some, Ben may have been born for adoptive fatherhood, considering his nurturing past: he worked alongside adults and children with special needs, which only strengthened his burning desire to nurture another being of his own.
Based on his learning experiences, Ben was confident in his abilities to take proper care of a disabled child; in fact, he thought it was the right thing for him to do. But, he anticipated one particular problem in making his long-awaited dream a reality…
The Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, resident was apprehensive about how his single status would appear from the perspective of eager adoption agencies. Would social workers even give him the time of day?
“I like to do my own thing. At the end of the day, I like a cup of tea and a slice of cake and to not listen to someone snoring,” the independent Brit snarkily said of his personal life. Relationships just never interested Ben, but fatherhood always had.
Despite this pang of doubt, nothing was to stop young Ben from fulfilling what he believed was his destiny. In truth, it took Ben a grueling three years to convince the authorities that he was even serious about adopting, not to mention his ability to act as a suitable dad.
Once social workers started taking Ben seriously, however, his charm and philanthropic appetite to care for a special needs child wowed them! Their previous assumptions about the persistent fellow were undoubtedly wrong.
“I told them who I was and where I worked and they were really positive and quite enthusiastic about me adopting a child,” Ben explained. Still, applying for a special needs child and actually caring for one were two separate challenges.
The first child he successfully adopted was Ruby, which made Ben one of the youngest gay men to adopt a child in Yorkshire. At the time, Ruby was wheelchair bound, hooked up to a feeding machine, and couldn’t speak. “She looked a very sorry little girl. She was petrified and shaking and it broke my heart,” Ben explained.
With Ben’s patience and dedication, she miraculously started eating and walking again. To clarify, she would still have life-long needs, but that never scared Ben Carpenter, whose paternal heart only grew bigger and bigger…
Over the course of nearly a decade, Ben, who has been donned “super dad” by media outlets, went on to adopt a grand total of five sweet disabled children: Ruby, Jack, Lily, Joseph, and baby Noah, who has a rare genetic disorder, Cornelia de Lange syndrome.
Aside from Noah’s syndrome, which comes with physical, cognitive, and medical difficulties, his adopted angels have disabilities including autism, down syndrome, scoliosis, and Pierre Robin syndrome, which generates developmental defects. None of these hurdles ever stifled Ben’s love, though.
He said he “wouldn’t change a thing” about his kids. Meanwhile, he spoke very openly of his positive feelings regarding adoption. “They are no longer in the care system and they have your surname,” he said. “As a parent, that is a wonderful feeling. For the child — if they are aware — it is a feeling of security.”
Ben’s refreshing enthusiasm to adopt disabled children in need differs from the mindset of most keen adopters, who often prefer what Ben calls the “Angelina Jolie or Madonna adoption” route, which usually involves “perfect,” healthy babies.
Unfortunately, many children over the age of four and those with disabilities are not usually adopters’ first choices, making it a struggle for them to be placed in a forever home. Ben knows, however, that “perfection” comes in unique forms — and people have been paying attention.
The super dad’s public outspokenness, via television networks, community groups, and news sites, concerning the benefits and rewarding facets of adoption didn’t go unnoticed. He was even awarded for his persistent efforts to educate the public.
Fittingly, in 2018, the 33-year-old was named “adopter extraordinaire” by the British Citizenship Awards. The BCA granted him a “Medal of Honour,” inscribed with the words “For the Good of the Country.” But receiving a medal doesn’t necessarily mark the finale of Ben’s do-good actions…
“If in the future a child really needed me and my help, I’m sure I would end up adopting them,” Ben confidently told the Mirror. Even if adopting a sixth child (goodness gracious) isn’t in the cards for Ben, he absolutely wishes to foster more children.
Being a single father to one child is hard enough, let alone five with special needs. Luckily, were he to run into struggles, either emotional or financial, he had some other families he could look to for help.
For instance, Hannah Fouche is 10 years old, but taking care of her isn’t like taking care of a 10-year-old. It’s like taking care of a toddler. Her parents, Tim and Vicki, don’t mind dedicating their life to their daughter, but it sure feels like an uphill battle.
Hannah has a condition called Cerebral Palsy, which is caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain during birth or pregnancy. There are many different forms and degrees, but Hannah’s is on the more serious side of the spectrum.
While some people with C.P. can walk, talk, and move around without too many hiccups, others are bound to wheelchairs and can’t speak. Unfortunately, Hannah falls into the latter category — but it doesn’t bring her down!
She has the cognitive abilities to communicate; she just can’t actually form words. She uses an app on her iPad to speak for her. It’s an invaluable tool that she often uses to ask for pretzel bites.
Unfortunately, Hannah’s physical challenges mean that Vicki and Tim have to care for her 24/7, and that includes everything from bathing to meal time. They carry her down the hallway and lift her into her safety bed. It isn’t an easy job, and it gets even tougher…
When Tim isn’t taking care of his daughters, he’s working a full-time job as a private construction manager, where he makes under $45,000 per year. It’s the family’s only source of income, as Vicki stays at home to teach the girls.
The oldest Fouche daughter, Bethany, has already moved out, but Vicki and Tim took in their teenage niece last year, so they remain a family of five. This means stretching every penny is their only option. A child with a disability requires a lot of pennies.
“I work hard,” Tim says. “As a husband and a dad, you try to maintain a balance of working and being there for your family, too. When you do that and you still feel like you’re falling short at the end of the month… it gets frustrating sometimes.”
Even though Tim has a lot of experience in his field, it’s not a good idea for him to get a job that pays more. The family depends on Medicaid and Social Security to cover Hannah’s expenses, and if Tim got a higher salary, they could lose the benefits.
“We’re between a rock and a hard place,” Vicki says. The benefits currently cover home-schooling expenses, treatments, therapy, and equipment like an electric wheelchair, a walker, and the iPad that allows her to communicate.
Despite Vicki’s brilliant budgeting, the Fouches are $15,000 in debt due to unexpected emergencies like having their mini-van fixed and a lack of reimbursements for Hannah. “We never have money to save,” Vicki says. “We’re lucky we have enough to pay our bills.”
Each week, Hannah sees a speech, physical, and occupational therapist. She also participates in therapeutic horseback riding. Because of assistance, the Fouches don’t have to pay out of pocket for any of that.
Still, not all the covered expenses are great. Hannah’s shower chair is uncomfortable, and her diapers often leak. Even her electric wheelchair, which is vital to her mobility, has malfunctioned many times.
One thing the family really wants for Hannah is a mobile stander, which would support her to stand up straight and even walk a bit, but Medicaid will not cover it since she already has an electric wheelchair. They have to pick their battles.
When the family falls financially short for Hannah’s expenses, they often raise funds by selling bracelets or Girl Scout Cookies. The rest is paid with the Fouches’ tax return, but it never lasts the year.
Though Vicki does a lot for her family, she sometimes feels bad that she can’t earn an income. However, Tim says he’s very thankful for the role she’s taken on. “It’s worth a lot for her to be with our children, and give them a good education,” he says.
The Fouches try to make sure Mikayla gets to have hobbies such as gymnastics and T-ball, but it’s not always possible. They had to charge T-ball fees to their credit card. They pay per class for gymnastics, and when money is tight, they’ll skip it for the week.
As for the future, well, nothing is certain. It may not seem like it, but Hannah has already made great strides. She can sit up unassisted (before, her body wasn’t strong enough to support itself), and she has even participated in the Special Olympics!
But even with intensive physical and speech therapy, chances are likely that Hannah will never be truly independent. “If we could have one wish for her… I would really hope at some point that she could be able to speak,” Vicki says.
One thing Vicki and Tim do know is that they never want to place Hannah in a nursing home. Overall, their greatest hope for their daughter is one most parents have for their child: “We just want her to have as good of a life as she can,” they said.
The same goes for Jeff and Julie Bryan, who had a flood of happiness rush at them on the day their daughter Addie was born. That unbridled joy that day didn’t last long, however. Addie almost didn’t make it.
The moment they laid eyes on Addie, the Bryans saw something was wrong. Their baby had hip dysplasia, a club foot, and two knees that bent backward. With a rare case of Larsen syndrome, the doctors doubted she’d ever walk.
Just days old, Addie underwent her first surgery. Dozens and dozens more followed over the next few years, with the Bryans estimating that their daughter went through 70 casts throughout her early childhood.
The Bryans placed their full faith in the staff of Texas Scottish Rite Hospital, located near their home in Dallas. Over the years, it built a sterling reputation for treating orthopedic conditions, particularly in children.
After years of medical intervention, there still wasn’t assurance that Addy would be able to lead a normal childhood. But amid all the darkness, the Bryans still clung tightly to a glimmer of hope — one member especially.
By the time she reached seven years old, Addy didn’t see herself as any different from other kids. She made the best of everything, despite her situation. Soon, her results began to impress everyone around her.
Though her legs still retained a slightly bent shape, Addie’s range of movement grew by leaps and bounds. Before long, she started to spend more time zipping around on her scooter than cooped up in the hospital.
And that wasn’t all. She could even run! Everyone understood that she had come an incredibly long way from her troubled infancy. There was no doubt about Addie’s good fortune, but something started to nag at her.
With her eighth birthday approaching, Addie knew she was incredibly lucky. Thanks to the folks at Scottish Rite Hospital, she could run, walk, and jump wherever she wanted. Addie only hoped every other kid could do the same.
One morning, Julie Bryan found her daughter tallying up her meager life’s savings. Addie shocked her by saying that she wasn’t just doing this for fun. She was looking to make a donation.
Addie wanted to make a real difference for the Scottish Rite Hospital in the form of a donation. Her mom suggested she open a lemonade stand with a couple of friends to raise more money, but ultimately, that tactic only raised $60.
So, knowing she needed to get more aggressive, she grabbed a marker and some poster board and drew up a sign requesting donations for the hospital. Then, she ran out to her street corner in hopes of collecting a fortune.
Despite the sweltering Texas heat, Addie had an easy time standing on the corner once she saw the contributions roll in. Neighbors and complete strangers alike seemed happy to help out even if it was with just a few dollars.
After a couple of months, Addie had built up a nice pile of money. Still, she was really looking to make a big fundraising lead in the final weeks before her birthday. Addie thought she could expand her operations beyond the street corner.
Addie and her parents reached out to a local restaurant called the Cotton Patch Cafe. They agreed to hold a charity event, and Addie went all out! Channeling her inner Pat Sajak, she set up a wheel of prizes to pack the house.
By the time her eighth birthday rolled around, Addie raised a whopping $19,500 for the hospital. For an institution that relied so much on charitable donations, this was huge. Not even Addie’s parents could believe she singlehandedly raised such a sum.
Her efforts gained a lot of attention. A number of outlets shared her story, from her local news station to People magazine! A live TV interview was a good birthday present, to be sure, but Addie was about to get a better one.
FOX 4 News
Stephanie Brigger, the hospital’s Vice President of Development, called the Bryans to share some big news: an anonymous donor felt so touched by Addie’s story that he decided to share a contribution of his own.
The Good Samaritan sent Scottish Rite an additional $50,000 in Addie’s name. That meant this 8-year-old’s donation totaled just under 70k! Most people couldn’t believe it, but this was exactly what Addie wanted.
She said she was glad to give so many other kids a shot at a happy life, as her gift could provide countless casts and prosthetics. Addie Bryan didn’t need anything else for her birthday. She proved that the best gift is giving back.