By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Mike and Annette Hoosier’s prayers had been answered.
Unable to have children of their own, the Granite Quarry couple fostered and then adopted two brothers, Dakerius and Matthew, who had been removed from their biological mother due to neglect.
When the boys’ mother lost custody of their brother Alan, Mike and Annette adopted him as well.
It made no difference to the white couple that the boys are African-American. The Hoosiers encountered some resistance to their mixed-race family but won over critics with an unyielding dedication to their children and, sometimes, a strongly worded response to cruel comments.
“People who can’t have their own children really see things differently,” said Liz Deal, an adoption specialist with Iredell County Department of Social Services who has worked with the Hoosiers. “They just see children for being children, who need parents to love them, and they need children to love.”
It washes away the color barrier, she said.
The family flourished, and Mike and Annette found a contentment they had never known.
Then, last year, a social worker from Nazareth Children’s Home called.
The boys had a six-day-old sister, born Nov. 3, 2010, in Iredell County. She had been removed from their mother’s custody and was still in the hospital.
Would the Hoosiers be willing to foster the baby girl?
“Yes, yes, yes!” Annette told the social worker. “I didn’t even have to call my husband. All she had to say was the boys had a baby sister.”
The Hoosiers had been talking about adopting a girl, and Matthew, now 11, had been praying for a sister for six and a half years.
Annette went to tell Mike the good news.
“I was thrilled to death,” said Mike, who works for the city of Salisbury’s Public Services Department. “My first words were really, ‘When can we get her?’ ”
A few hours later, they placed Lindsey Grace on the kitchen table, strapped into her infant car seat, for the world to see.
“It was wonderful. We had a houseful,” Annette said. “Everybody just stood around her, just staring.”
The baby slept through her homecoming.
‘I wanted to be angry’
The Hoosiers began the long process of adopting Lindsey Grace.
When the baby was 3 months old, they noticed her eyes were not aligned. Alan’s eyes had done something similar, which was corrected by patching the dominant eye and wearing glasses.
Mike and Annette assumed Lindsey Grace had the same problem.
But the baby’s eyes also did not focus on faces or toys. When something came close to her face, she didn’t blink.
A doctor dilated her big brown eyes and discovered a shriveled optic nerve behind them. She diagnosed Lindsey Grace with optic nerve hypoplasia, an irreversible condition.
Over several appointments, the Hoosiers began to comprehend what that means. Lindsey Grace is partially blind.
“It’s too early to tell, but to a certain extent she is blind,” Mike said. “We don’t know what and how much she can see.”
The condition often indicates additional developmental delays.
Lindsey Grace’s birth mother acknowledged abusing drugs while she was pregnant. She had received no prenatal care.
“Of course I wanted to be angry, because she is going to have to pay for something someone else did,” Mike said. “I wanted to be angry and mad, but we had her, and she’s going to get every available help that there is out there for her.”
The devastating news about Lindsey Grace’s eyesight came in stark contrast to the joy that had surrounded her arrival at the Hoosiers’ modest home. But Mike and Annette continued to pursue adoption and began to navigate the complicated world of caring for a child with severe disabilities.
They never questioned their devotion to Lindsey Grace or their intention to unite the boys with their sister and raise them together, said Monte Mayberry, a family friend.
“It didn’t deter them,” Mayberry said. “It is somewhat rare in this day and time to find people so selfless.”
A new Hoosier
By 6 months old, Lindsey Grace had a therapist from the Governor Morehead School for the Blind, as well as other specialists. While she appears to have no peripheral vision or depth perception and can’t see below a certain point, the Hoosiers believe Lindsey Grace can see shadows and high contrast.
Pam Schettler served as Guardian ad Litem for Lindsey Grace.
“When I was working with them, I think Lindsey had four different therapists to help her,” Schettler said. “That tells me Annette is more than receptive. She really wants to see all of this through and get any kind of help for Lindsey that she can.”
Therapists praised Annette for working with Lindsey Grace between appointments.
“She was doing her homework,” Schettler said. “Lindsey started progressing.”
On June 24, an Iredell County judge approved the adoption, and Mike and Annette returned home with Lindsey Grace Hoosier. Her brothers had chosen the name “Lindsey.” Mike loved “Grace,” a name Annette had always wanted if she ever had a little girl.
“It was perfect,” Annette said.
But Lindsey Grace continued to struggle. While her hearing was exceptional, her motor skills were significantly delayed and she rarely uttered a sound.
At age 1, Lindsey Grace underwent an MRI. Doctors found brain damage.
She suffers from periventricular leukomalacia, a type of brain injury that affects infants. The condition involves the death of small areas of brain tissue around fluid-filled areas called ventricles. The damage creates “holes” in the brain and hinders development.
“It’s not something we can cure,” Annette said.
Annette cried on the ride home. She struggled for two days with anger and could not accept the diagnosis.
“Once I started processing it, it really hit me and I got upset,” she said. “I was crying because our little girl was hurt.”
She grieved the loss of a “normal” little girl.
“I told my husband that she was not going to be like everybody else,” Annette said. “And that’s when we realized that this is what makes her more special, more unique in who she was, and God has a plan for her.”
The Hoosiers pledged to do everything they could to prevent Lindsey from falling behind and provide the best environment they could.
A doctor told them Lindsey Grace would grow up one of two ways — either as a person who depends on others to do things for her, or as someone who is motivated and will excel despite her handicaps.
“I think she will grow up to be very determined and accomplish a lot,” Annette said. “We don’t love her any less, and we love her probably more.”
‘We’re all learning’
A stranger visiting the Hoosier house may not realize Lindsey Grace, now 2, is blind. She plays, runs and climbs like any other little girl, fearless and inquisitive in a house where the furniture never moves.
She became so proficient in her movement, the family suspected her eyesight had improved. But therapists took Lindsey Grace and Annette to a park.
They encouraged the nervous mom to put her daughter down. Lindsey Grace immediately sat on the ground and began patting the grass all around with her hands and feet.
When she determined the terrain, she stood up and took a few steps. When the unlevel ground changed, she dropped again to start the process over. Annette watched in awe.
“She’s learning, and I’m learning,” Annette said. “We’re all learning with her.”
Rather than viewing Lindsey Grace’s disabilities as a burden, the Hoosiers see them as an opportunity. The family will learn to read Braille. Mike and Annette hope to enroll her in public school with a one-on-one assistant.
If not, Lindsey Grace might attend the School for the Blind in Raleigh.
“If it means helping her and making her life better, I’ll do anything,” said Mike, who swoops up his daughter and cradles her while she pulls off his cap. “But she will not live there. We will sell the house and move, if we have to. She will live with us.”
The Hoosiers don’t dwell on Lindsey Grace’s disabilities and treat her like the other children, said Schettler, the Guardian ad Litem.
“She has been embraced by the family,” Schettler said. “It’s very clear they adore her.”
The boys often play with their sister, carrying her and helping her with snacks and toys.
“I’m happy because I’ve never had a little sister before,” said Dakerius, a linebacker for the seventh-grade football team at North Rowan Middle School.
Alan, 8, calls Lindsey Grace “awesome.”
Matthew, a sixth-grader, said he would have been sad if she had gone to live with someone else, although he sometimes has to dodge sharp fingernails.
“She’s cute, but deadly,” he said.
The boys have inherited their adoptive dad’s sense of humor, if that’s possible.
“Unfortunately, even though they are not our biological kids, they act just like me,” Mike said.
The Hoosier home is warm, comfortable and a little chaotic.
“My opinion of Mike and Annette is that they are the true meaning of Christians,” said Deal, the adoption specialist. “They just have hearts of gold and just have a deep desire to love these children and care for them and give them what’s best.”
As a social worker, Deal said she found deep satisfaction in helping Mike and Annette adopt Lindsey Grace, uniting the four siblings.
“Sometimes you can look at families and know this was meant to be,” Deal said. “This was the plan God had.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.
By Emily Ford