El Paso parents venture to China for adoption adventure

It began as a desire to adopt a child. It then turned into an adventure for an El Paso family that took it on a 7,000-mile journey to China, where it adopted a boy with a physical condition it had never encountered before.

JiHua Williams is a typical 7-year-old El Paso boy who loves to ride his Big Wheel and play ball with his big brother, Logan Williams, and his big sister, Lindsey Williams.

His adoptive parents are Dr. Dave Williams, a local podiatrist, and his wife, Elizabeth O’Hara Williams, a former anchor and news director at KFOX14.

Dave Williams said the couple had talked about adopting a child since early in their relationship. When they finally decided the time was right to adopt, the Williamses quickly learned there are many Chinese children with special needs who are available for adoption.

That's due in part to China's "one child policy" that strongly discourages couples from having more than one child. Because of the policy, many couples will give up a newborn who has any imperfections and try to have another baby.

As part of the adoption process, the Williamses had to fill out a form, detailing which disabilities or special needs they could accept and which they couldn't. I asked the couple how difficult they found that process.

"That was hard," Dave Williams said.

“We struggled with that,” O’Hara Williams added, “because it's everything from, 'Are you OK with a child that has hepatitis A, B, C? Are you OK with an HIV child? Are you OK with a child who's blind? Are you OK with a child who's missing a limb?' I mean, you just look at all these things and you think, 'I don't know if we're prepared for something like that.'"

Through the adoption process, the couple soon decided whom they wanted to adopt.

“I think it was as soon as we saw the picture," Williams said about seeing the toddler named JiHua. “I mean as soon as they sent us a picture, we had a connection and that was it. We were all in with this kid."

They learned JiHua was born with a pair of congenital medical conditions, microtia and atresia. O’Hara Williams said when she first heard those words, she had no idea what they meant. But then, fate and an old friend intervened.

“When I was on maternity leave from KFOX,” O’Hara Williams said, “the El Paso Times had asked me to write an article about our experience and it showed up in the newspaper. Somebody gave that article to this girl, who I hadn't seen in 20 years, and they said, 'Look, here's this woman in El Paso and she's got a son just like your son,' and Monica was like, 'Oh, my God, I went to high school with this girl.'"

Her old friend, Monica, immediately contacted O’Hara Williams and told her about a local support group for families dealing with hearing issues called En Voz Alta. She then introduced the Williamses to Dr. Arturo Bonilla, a San Antonio surgeon, whose entire medical practice is dedicated to children with microtia and atresia.

“Micro is Latin for small,” Bonilla said. “Otia is Latin for ear. So small ear is what it means. And these kids are born with an ear malformation. We don't really know why it happens. But they're basically born with a small, almost like a worm-shaped nubbing on the side of the head."

JiHua has microtia on both sides of his head, along with atresia, which means he has no ear canal.

"The first thing people think is, 'They must be deaf. '” Bonilla said. “These kids are not deaf because their inner ear, where the hearing nerve is, is almost always perfectly normal."

O'Hara Williams explained it this way.

"The way that he hears is the way that you and I hear if we were underwater,” she said. “Like you hear something but it's not super clear.”

Bonilla creates new ears for children with microtia by using their own bodies.

“I harvest some rib cartilage out of their little chest cavity and make them the ear," Bonilla said.

It's a process that requires three surgeries for each ear. That means six in all for JiHua. But by this summer, JiHua should have two normal-looking ears and improved hearing.

The hearing aids JiHua already has are helping him make strides at school. When he first arrived in El Paso from China more than three years ago, JiHua only spoke Chinese. But thanks to a special program at Sageland Elementary School, he's now becoming fluent in both English and Spanish.

His dad still recalls the moment he knew JiHua was part of the Williams family.

"For about a year, everything we asked of him, chores, what have you, he would do it, no questions asked," Williams said. “But then one day, we asked him to clean something or to put something away and he just sat there defiantly and he said 'no.' And I was like, 'Wow, he told us no.' That means he's comfortable enough to say no to us. That's huge!"

Despite the challenges they faced on their adventure, the Williamses are just glad they adopted JiHua, saying it's been as much a learning experience for them as for him.

Support for Children with Hearing Loss

Facebook: En Voz Alta

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