Our Adoption Story – Orenburg/Orsk trip with Frank Adoption Center – Raleigh, NC

 

The following is a summary of our experience with Frank Adoption Agency of Raleigh, NC.  We attempted to adopt two Russian children that were “healthy” or at least had issues that were “fixable” or considered “mild & correctable”.  Many items that these children suffered from could be fixed with a little love, nutrition and western medicine.

 

After completing the volumes of paperwork (with changing standards) – our home study was completed by January 2005.  Being new “entrees” – we are required to wait “our turn”.  After seeing many families receive their referrals of single children in the summer and two “false starts” that evaporated after months of hope, we requested to Frank on October 10th, 2006 that we change our request from two to one child since in appeared to us that this was part of the reason for our delay.  A funny thing happened – the very next day (October 11th, 2006) – we were told that two children had been hand picked by the Andrei (Frank’s Orenburg / Orsk coordinator) and we must travel within the next few days.  The only “catch” was that the referral was “blind” (no medical information would be provided until we were there in the region).  We did receive date of births and were assured that the coordinator has hand picked these children for us and they would easily meet the requirements outlined in our dossier of healthy or mild & correctable.  If the 2 children we were traveling to see did not work out for health reasons, we were told there were numerous other healthy children to choose from.  Our social worker told us that the worst thing that would happen, would be that we would be required to stay in the region for a few days longer than anticipated while the Andrei located other children for us.  We happily accepted and due to that unlikely possibility – we should only purchase a last minute / refundable / changeable / expensive airline ticket (i.e.  --  3 days advance purchase / changeable / international airfare is NOT cheap !!).  We also padded a few extra days onto our trip while preparing the last minute visa (expensive, but Frank was able to help out for a fee).

 

Again, on the advice of our social worker – we opted for the services of a Russian based doctor to review the medical information that will be provided to us once in the country.  We felt that this was a good move since neither of us had any type of medical background (again, last minute).  We were lucky to find a highly qualified doctor in Dr. Vadim Ivanov.  He is Chief Pediatrician of the American Clinic in Moscow and is a certified doctor in Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom.  Frank approved our selection.  What we found out later was how ethical he was.

 

Going through the last minute checklist with Frank – we were told not to declare any of the approx. $8,000 in cash / currency (USD) to the Russian customs officials.  To say the least – carrying that amount of cash made us nervous, even more in a land far, far away.  We obliged and put faith in our trust for Frank.

 

After ~ 24 hours of traveling, we meet up with Illya (sp? – Andrei’s son) and another adoptive couple.  We then travel to a regional airport inside of Moscow.  Andrei, the Frank coordinator, meets up with us at the regional airport (DMO) for the flight to Orenburg.  When asked about the health of our prospective children, Andrei affirms that they were “very healthy” and “no problem’s”.  We are going to see both children the next day.  We arrive very late in Orenburg.

 

On Tuesday morning, our translator Anfisa instructs us how to act and what to say while at the Ministry of Education.  We were concerned when told to lie when asked to say we were sent here by EnRoute travel and not Frank Adoption Center (a related company to the Frank Foundation, but not previously disclosed).  Things go very well in our brief interview with the MOE and we are soon on our way to the baby home in Orsk to meet our children. 

 

The trip is a white-knuckle adventure.  We pack 5 people (Laurie, George, Anfisa, Andrei, and the driver) into a tiny Lada.  The driver is a maniac – he drives left of the center line, passes on curves and hills, off the berm into the grass, and plays chicken with oncoming cars.  The drive to Orsk is over 3 hours.  Average speed:  120km – 140km (80 – 90mph) with shorts bursts higher.  George sat directly behind the driver and witnessed that Andrei had to “instruct” the driver to drive in his lane 5 times with one of those Andrei grabbing the wheel and jerking the car into its proper lane (all on a single trip).


 


On Tues afternoon, we arrive at the baby home in Orsk to meet our two children.   We were informed that the girl was born 3 months early and is a tiny baby.  We get approximately 15 – 20 minutes to learn about her and to bond with her.  Our doctor arrives from Moscow and meets us at the baby home to do a formal evaluation of her. 

 

We then are told by the orphanage director that we will not be shown the boy because he has Cerebral Palsy.  We are concerned on how this could have happened since these children were hand picked for us and CP is not at all “mild or correctable”.  The good news is that Andrei is taking us to another “baby home”. 

 


This baby home is located in Novitroisk.  We believe that Anfisa, our translator, had spoken about this place on the drive over, but not by name, and mentions that the home had kids but they “were all sick”.  We make this connection by the “skyline” of Novitroisk (12+ active smoke stacks) on the way to Orsk and the view from the children’s hospital.

“Skyline” of Novitroisk


 

 

The next day, Dr. Ivanov informs us that this is not a “baby home”, but a children’s hospital.  Why were we taken to a children’s hospital to see children than exhibited “mild & correctible” medical issues?  We are becoming very concerned that our dossier is being ignored and the effects of Frank’s apparent lack of follow through would have upon our lives. 

 

It is in Novitrorisk where we meet another boy, we’ll name “John” – not sure if it’s appropriate to list the children’s true names since we did not adopt them, so we are not.  Compared to the girl, he appears to be is a strong little boy who was born about 9 months of age.  He is a bit odd-looking, but he has lots of character.  We review the file and begin the bonding process.  We then head back to Orenburg hoping that Dr. Ivanov can review the medical records of this child as well.

 

So far, we have seen two children – provided a “sketch” of their medical histories and diagnosises.  We wish to have Dr. Ivanov review this information and for any long term implications.  Back in Orenburg, we were instructed to meet for dinner.  During dinner, our doctor rings us on Andrei’s cell phone.  Anfisa tries to rush us along, but we are getting important information about what could be our future daughter.  Dr. Ivanov says there are some red flags with the little girl – there is a “high probability” that she may have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome as evidenced by her Denver Developmental Test (this measures her head circumference, length, weight and chest measurements with “normal” children).  She is also developmentally and physically delayed by 6 months (very far behind considering she is just under 12 months old).  Alarming, considering she was 2 months premature.  The more we talk with Dr. Ivanov, the angrier Anfisa gets. 

 

After ending our conversation early  – we ask Andrei about the fact that it was told that the original boy was “very healthy” and in turn had cerebral palsy.   According to Frank’s trip 1 and trip 2 preparation notes, the coordinator visits the region twice on our behalf.  It was evident at the airport that Andrei had personally met the other couple’s prospective children.  However, when we asked about the health of our potential children, he said they were “very healthy – no problem”.  With us relying our decision to accept the blind referral largely on the fact that these children were hand picked by Andrei – we just don’t understand how or why he could have picked a child with cerebal palsy?  Secondly – we clearly stated upfront our wishes regarding the health conditions at a minimum be of and “mild and correctable” in nature.  Also, we believe that Anfisa does not completely translate what Andrei is saying but we think it was something along the lines of “that’s just what the Americans get”.  Anfisa says only the Russians get healthy kids.  While she is speaking, she does not look us in the eye so we feel that she is not being up front with us and the translations are drastically different in time scope (Andrei will talk for 3 to 4 minutes and the translation is a simple sentence or two).

 

After dinner, we borrowed the other couple’s satellite phone and called our social worker, Amy Perry, that evening just to let her know about this discussion and are fearful that we are not being properly represented here.  She informs us that she will let her boss, Michalina know of our issues and we should call tomorrow. 

 

On Wed morning, we’re back to Orsk.  We meet the doctor at the baby house and he pulls us to the side and expresses his concerns to us again that the girl is a high risk candidate for fetal alcohol syndrome.  We ask the Frank team to take all of us to the Novotroisk “baby home” (hospital) so that the doctor can review the boy, “John”.

 

Dr. Ivanov took one look at “John” and turned white.  It was one of the most terrible feelings I’ve ever had in my life.  I could see by the doctor’s expression that something was terribly wrong.  He offered to complete the evaluation, but this boy displayed obvious signs of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome – lack of philtrim (the area between the upper lip and nose), wide and flat nose, thin upper lip, and eyes wide apart.  A “gross” example.

 

Once again, we were forced to punt.  We informed our agency representative that “John”  would not be adopted by us and would like to see another child anywhere up to 3 years that had “mild and correctable” issues.  For privacy concerns – we don’t feel we are allowed to show any pictures, but to the trained eye of doctor – the problem was obvious.

 

Per our request, one of the nurses brought in “Tom”, a beautiful boy with a “great face” (as the doctor termed it).  In contrast to “John”, “Tom” had no obvious signs of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in his face and he even had a great philtrum.  He actually looked like the Gerber baby food child.  We proceeded to go through his records and the doctor began his evaluation.  In the translation, we learned that “Tom” tested positively for the Hepatitis C virus in Sept ‘06.  Here again, Hep C is not a minor correctable condition.  As a matter of fact, we do not understand why we were presented with this child when a child with Hep C cannot be brought into the US.  Again, another waste of time. 

 

During the evaluation of “Tom”, Andrei calls Sergei (our translator for Wed since Anfisa was in court and Anfisa’s son) and informs him of our decision.  Andrei was yelling so loud on the other side of the cell phone that he could be heard from inside of the examination room, behind a closed steel door and around the corner yelling about Dr. Ivanov’s diagnosis of “John’s” FAS.  As a matter of fact, Andrei questioned the credentials of the doctor to make this diagnosis.  To our knowledge, Andrei does not have a medical degree while Dr. Ivanov is certified by the Russian, American and British medical boards.  At this time, Sergei, under instructions from Andrei, asks Dr. Ivanov to leave the room and informs him his diagnosis is over.  Andrei basically just fired our doctor (whom we are paying, not he or Frank Adoption Center).  George goes back and forth with Sergei / Andrei over the validity of having a doctor with us and I instruct Dr. Ivanov to re-join us. 

 

The doctor requested and received permission from the children’s hospital director to obtain a vial of “Tom’s” blood.  This would test for Hep B, Hep C and HIV.  The Hep C test, this is not a positive/negative test as was performed by the region, but a widespread spectrum test which would tell us if the antibodies causing the positive reaction were from “Tom” or his mother.  If they were from his mother, they would likely clear by the time he reaches 18 mo. old and thus no Hep C.  An important fact for us to consider “Tom” for possible adoption since it determine the difference between severe and “mild & correctable” and it’s implications.  However, when Andrei found out about the blood test (again, approved by the orphanage director), he went ballistic and called a supervisor not at that facility.  Once again, he told us that our doctor he was fired.  He had no reason to fire him, nor did he have the right to fire him.  The doctor works for us, not Frank!  Andrei also said that Dr. Ivanov would no longer be able to work in the region.  Later he told the doctor that the Orenburg region would no longer allow the use of outside doctors.  We’re not sure how this could be since he is not part of the government decision making process, especially considering the baby home staff, MOE and hospital were all very accommodating to the doctor.  At this point, we borrow the doctor’s cell phone and attempt to call Natasha (President of Frank Foundation) and with 3 attempts – no luck.  We later find out that she had taken Andrei’s call and not ours.

 

Dr. Ivanov informed us that Andrei had told him to lie about the FAS diagnosis of “John” so we would adopt him.  The doctor said that that is a violation of both Russian and US law.  In the review of the girl, the doctor further told us that the medical report states that both parents were drug and alcohol abusers.  This was an item which Anfisa (the Frank translator) did not share with us – despite having access to the same documentation which the doctor did.

 

At this point, we are really afraid!  We feel that somehow there was a hidden agenda for placing special needs kids.  Andrei and Anfisa had no sympathy for our cause as parents and the needs that a special needs baby (or babies) would require.  Frank did not advocate for us.  As a matter of fact, they tried to work against us – with the doctor and with the children with uncorrectable issues.  Soon after this outburst, we were told we had to leave to go to the notary office in back in Orenburg. 

 

We were told upon arriving that if we had any interest in these 2 children that we should go ahead and complete the petition to adopt.  Despite our concerns and not having the complete written report from Dr. Ivanov – we completed the petition but kept it in our possession.  We were just hopeful that the tests could be allowed.

 

At this point, we felt we were not at all being represented by the people who were supposed to be there for us (understatement of the millennium).   We ask for help from Anfisa to locate a calling card so that we may call Frank USA.  She tells us we can do that later, later, later.  We attempt on our own to find a calling card with no luck due to the language barrier.  We feel abandoned.  After about 2 hours of this, we are taken back to the hotel (10 hrs ahead of Raleigh), we attempted to use the phone in our room to call the emergency contacts Frank had given us (different number scheme than the USA) to no avail.  George again goes to various stores in attempt to purchase an international calling card.  We were able to locate the other adoptive couple and borrow their satellite phone to attempt to reach Natasha again.  While in the US, we were assured that should we need them at any time, we could find someone on the list to help us.  This was simply not the case.  We wait until later on in the day / morning in the USA and called the DC office where Natasha (president) works and were told she was unavailable.  Instead of speaking with her directly, we were transferred to our social worker, Amy in the NC office.  Amy already knew of many of the issues – because they all had been in contact with Andrei throughout the day while not taking our calls.  We told Amy of the specific issues with the doctor and the health of the children.  She also asked what we wanted and we reiterated that we are looking for children (or at this point a single child would be more than acceptable) with “mild correctable conditions”.  We understand that the health is not guaranteed, but FAS, CP and Hep C are neither minor nor correctable.  How could any of these be “hand picked” by any form of examination of records or in person?

 

She told us she would tell Michalina and then Natasha and call us back.  Considering our circumstances – we are a bit appalled that we were pawned off on Amy.  We weren’t calling to them a joke or ask how the weather was. 

 

After little progress from Amy, we requested to talk with Michalina and were told that she was working on an issue with another Frank family.  Was it more important than a couple who was stranded in Russia, being shown sick kids & being ignored?  Is anyone trying to protect our interests?  Is anyone representing us?

 

Over the next 1 ½ - 2 hours, we try to figure out our next step.  Michalina finally got involved and called Dr. Ivanov who would initially not release the diagnoses of the children due to privacy restrictions.  We gave him permission to speak with Frank USA.  Dr. Ivanov explained that our specialists in the states should review his reports especially with regards to the girl.  Also, with regards to “Tom”, the reason for the wide spectrum Hep C test was not a “yes/no” but a more through determination of the source of his Hep C viruses.  He also said he did not travel with the same equipment to the regions as he has in his Moscow office or a full service hospital.  He also felt that they would be able to more aptly describe her conditions in better English.  This has nothing to do with the questioning of his credentials – just another set of eyes looking at the report and confirming its findings on such a serious diagnosis.

 

As far as the blood test goes, if Dr. Ivanov did not oversee the blood draw, how can we have confidence that it would truly be drawn from “Tom”?  Are we to trust Andrei (the same person who told our Doctor to lie to us about “John’s” diagnosis)?  The doctor also said that he did not have to be the one to draw the blood – it could be one of the medical staff.  He did not have faith in the lab in Orenburg.  The lab in Moscow was an independent lab which was approved by the CDC in Atlanta, the lab in Orenburg is not.  We were willing to pay the bill for such analysis.  The test is known as PCR and measures total antibody of Hep C and Hep B because the previous tests were sub-optimal.  Also, how was shipment going to be handled (refrigeration and handling concerns)?  We were not allowed.

 

Dr. Ivanov stated to us that in the past 10 years that he has been traveling to the various regions of Russia that this was only the second time he had been yelled at by a coordinator.  It was the first time he was asked to lie to the prospective parents about a diagnosis.  This constitutes a break in both Russian and American law – the right to have all available information about the kids.

We initially were told that we should plan on staying in the region for another couple of days until some acceptable children could be located (the “original Plan B”) and an acceptable scenario on when we accepted the blind referral.  Michalina later said that if we planned on continuing in the region that we needed to apologize to Andrei and pay for his services.  We both found this ludicrous and insulting.  After all, we came halfway around the world to see 2 children who did not meet our expectations that were supposedly hand picked by him.  We treated him with respect despite the fact he yelled at us and our doctor multiple times.  George informed Michalina that we have nothing to apologize to him for.  He is the one who hand picked these children and in turn have wasted our time and money.  In turn, she offered to take care of Andrei’s payment through Natasha.

 

It gets worse -- she now informs us at 11:00 (approx) local Orenburg time that our only option was to go home because there were no more children!  It was also advised that we should have the medical notes reviewed by our local doctors.  I asked to “look ahead” – if the two children’s diagnoses are verified by our Cleveland doctors as Dr. Ivanov had described – then this trip is a complete waste.  She informed us we could then move our dossier to another region.  She said Natasha had just spoken with Andrei, and no other children were available for us.  We question how could Andrei know this at 11:00pm-11:30pm (Orenburg time) when the Ministry of Education was closed?  Furthermore, there were many other Americans and Germans in our hotel who got healthy referrals.  Was there not a single child with minor correctable conditions, under the age of 3?  Couldn’t anyone try in the morning?  That can’t be.  Why were we shown only severely sick kids? 

 

We informed her that due to Frank’s errors and not having an unlimited budget that this was unacceptable.  Who is watching out for us?  Frank is profiting from their errors.   BTW – Frank made no offer to reimburse us for the botched trip #1. 

 

When in the US, we were told that there were many healthy kids available to choose from.  At that point we would have been happy with just one child or flexible on the ages, but it was evident that Andrei did not want to work with us anymore.  It’s now Wednesday (10/18/2006) and we’ve hit bottom and are far from home.

 

Amy was the only person at Frank to apologize.  Michalina did not offer any apology or helpful thoughts, and Natasha refused to speak with us.  Michalina would only say that this was an “awful situation” and that they are trying to find out what happened so that history does not repeat itself.  It seems as if they only wanted us to repeat another trip to some other distant Russian city at great expense to us (& profit to them).

 

George later ran into Andrei in the lobby.  Andrei demanded payment for himself, the translator and the drivers.  George explained that we still were not satisfied, so he should talk to Natasha & Michalina on this issue.

 

We were so upset with Frank’s ignoring our dossier requirements of “mild & correctable” issues, being made to feel horrible we wouldn’t adopt these very sick children, issues of Andrei not dealing with us honestly or accurately and the absurd driving -- that we decided it was in our safest & best interests to leave Orenburg on our own.  This would avoid the probable bad situation with Andrei in the morning and avoid the crazy drive to the airport.  We made our own arrangements to leave Orenburg, Russia and return to Moscow and in turn the USA without the help of Frank.  Our trip started to go a bit smoother.

 

Back Home …..

 

We spoke briefly with the other adoptive family we traveled with and said that she had spoken with 3 moms who adopted from this same region.  Those 3 were successful.  However, on each of those separate trips, there was a couple like us who left the region with no prospective child, traveling on false hopes like ourselves.  We were not the first that this happened to with this team or region.

 

Once home, we found out via Yahoo Groups about Russian Adoption that another family had received a referral on Friday , October 20th, 2006 (EST) for a one year old from Orsk using another agency that had an affiliation or working relationship with Frank (Note when we were told our news and the time change)!  Considering the time difference – how could no kids be available?  We were able to contact these people after they came back from Russia and were shocked that they went to see the same girl and another family traveling with them saw “John” & “Tom”.  Both families had concerns with the medical diagnoses from the “Frank approved” doctor and felt that Doctor was not forthwith in her full medical evaluation.  Again, why wasn’t Frank working in the interests of the parents?  Frank knew well in advance of the medical conditions of these children (Dr. Ivanov had told them) and provided the referrals anyways. 

 

Also – early in our trip, we came across a German couple leaving the Orsk baby house as we were coming in.  George later ran across them at our hotel and found out that they planned to adopt a girl and wished to have a doctor’s assistance.  He provided them with Dr. Ivanov’s number.  We later found out that the girl was in the same bedroom as the girl we saw in the Orsk baby house. 

 

On October 24th, 2006 – after a conversation with Amy – she informed us that we were not allowed to return to the region per the MOE but refused to offer any specifics.  Of course – no information is ever received from the MOE on this “fact”.

 

We posed several questions to Frank NC about what happened to us in Orenburg/Orsk.  Amy, our social worker, said they would get back to us in a couple of days.  What we received in the mail was a letter firing us and a measly check for $2,400.  Frank has also refused to return our dossier.  We never once were able to discuss the issue with Michalina or Natasha.  So much for trying to find out what happened and how to avoid it in the future.  We are out nearly $20,000.  We don’t know how we were so wrong about them.  I think many who have been wronged in the past “move on” some other way to adopt via some other route or not at all. 

 

Many have asked us on why don’t we sue them.  We’ve explored this avenue.  To paraphrase the comments from one attorney we talked with their contract was developed by firm that has a lot of litigation experience.  It still burns us to know that Frank can hide behind their contract and do this to anyone and anytime with impunity.  The laws in this country need to be changed.  The children’s rights are protected.  The agencies rights are protected.  What about the prospective parents?  It’s just a money game. 

 

We just have been affected by a series of lies and errors that have placed our adoption efforts on hold.  We now have wasted 18 months with the Frank Adoption Center and have nothing to show for it except the incredible emptiness left by the misrepresentations, errors and lies by Frank.  Laurie, although never experienced it, has commented that this is how a miscarriage must feel like. 

 

How many others has this happened to?

 

 

If you have a similar experience with Frank Adoption Center or Russian adoption – please contact us.  We are trying to get a group of people together to expose these horrible practices and ethics violations to our politicians, media and anyone else who will listen. 

 

Sincerely,

 

George & Laurie Zeck

gzeck@email.com

 

                             

 

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