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European edition, Thursday, May 10, 2007

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Bishop and his wife, Jeanette, had survived the stressful and frustrating process of adopting a pair of siblings from Liberia.

They beat incredible odds to raise more than $24,000 with the help of family, friends and generous strangers to cover the costs. They passed the required background check and overcame much of the bureaucratic paperwork to legally adopt Jacob, 5, and Anthionette, 8, from the war-torn African country.

But nothing would prepare them for the message they would receive on their answering machine at 10:30 p.m. on Jan. 10.

It was both brief and urgent.

“Jacob’s heart is swollen,” the woman from the adoption agency said. “He’s dying. You have to get to Liberia.”

They listened from their home in Vogelweh military housing in disbelief. They said the agency had never told them the children had any pre-existing medical conditions. They had only seen the children through digital photos e-mailed to them.

The disclosure that their soon-to-be adopted son was dying would set off a monthlong battle by the Bishops to legally fly their children out of the country and get Jacob the help he needed. It would turn out to be a race against time and an ordeal that would test the Bishops’ marriage and their will to fulfill a long-held wish to adopt.

The couple had talked about adopting children before they got married. Bishop, who is assigned to 723rd Air Mobility Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, was adopted when he was young.

Although they had two children of their own, they decided last year they would adopt a child after learning about the thousands of children in Liberia who are homeless due to AIDS and violence.

The agency found them a brother and sister. But the Bishops had thought the children would be coming with a relatively clean bill of health, even though many children adopted abroad often come with undiagnosed medical conditions and issues.

Jeanette Falu-Bishop said she panicked when she found out about her son’s heart.

“I freaked,” she said.

The truth was that Jacob had a bad heart for months, and now would have only days to live if he went untreated. He couldn’t get the care he needed in Liberia. His only chance of survival was to speed up the adoption process and get him to a hospital that could save him.

The Bishops called the agency to find out what they needed to do to get their children as soon as possible. They scrambled to get the proper documents signed, enroll them into the military health-care system, obtain the proper visas, and figure out a way to get to Liberia and pick up their children. They estimate they made about 60 phone calls in a matter of days across three continents.

The only thing left to finalize the adoption was a contract from the agency. But it didn’t come. Days later, the Bishops got a letter in the mail explaining the company’s fear that they would be sued. But that wasn’t the case, Jeanette Falu-Bishop said.

“I just wanted my kids,” she said.

Weeks went by, and the Bishops continued to worry. It wouldn’t be until the Bishops agreed in writing that they would not sue the agency that they would finally be able to get the children home.

It turned out they wouldn’t have to fly to Liberia to get the children. The military agreed to pay for Air Ambulance Worldwide, a medical transportation company, to pick up both children and transport them to Washington, D.C., where Jacob could get treatment.

The children arrived at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Feb. 15 malnourished and wearing clothes several sizes too small. Doctors said the cause of Jacob’s life-threatening heart condition was four abscessed teeth. His rotten teeth had caused an infection so bad that it reached the boy’s heart, which one doctor compared to Swiss cheese. Doctors pulled the teeth, treated the infection and repaired Jacob’s heart.

They also treated Anthionette for ringworm and her own abscessed tooth. Although there could be long-term implications due to Jacob’s medical condition, doctors expect a full recovery. A doctor at Walter Reed told the Bishops that had Jacob stayed one more day in Liberia he probably would have died, Jeanette Falu-Bishop said.

The Bishops credit dozens of people from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center to Ramstein Air Base to Walter Reed for helping them get their adopted children out of Liberia and saving Jacob.

As difficult as the experience was, the Bishops say it has made their family and their marriage stronger.

It also taught them a valuable lesson.

“Always fight for what you believe in,” Jeanette Falu-Bishop said.

Adoption symposium set for Kaiserslautern

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The 15th European Adoption Symposium, an annual event in the Kaiserslautern Military Community, will be held Saturday at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The event is open to American military identification card holders. Jeanie Veith, an organizer, said dozens of couples attend each year.

This year’s event is to start at 8 a.m. and run until evening. Those attending may choose from a variety of seminars and talk with representatives from several adoption agencies and social workers.

No advance registration is required to attend, but registration is required for child care and may be completed online. For more information, go to the association’s Web site.

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