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
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
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
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
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
On Tues afternoon, we arrive at the baby home in
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
“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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Over the next 1 ˝ - 2 hours, we try to figure out our next
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
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
Dr. Ivanov stated to us that in
the past 10 years that he has been traveling to the various regions of
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 (approx) local
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
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
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
Also – early in our trip, we came across a German couple
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
How many others has this happened to?
If you have a similar experience with
George & Laurie Zeck
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