Dima Kalekin from the Ukraine doesn’t remember his parents. On the day of his birth he was diagnosed with hydrocephalus (sometimes referred to as “water on the brain”) and when his parents saw him for the first time, they left the hospital without him and never came back. Dima was sent to an orphanage for disabled children in Krematorsk in the eastern part of the country.
Four years later, Dima still couldn’t walk or eat with utensils. His caregivers held little hope that he would ever develop normally. In fact, they were surprised that he had survived as long as he had and was even able to say a few words. But even though the young boy seemed to be beating the odds, fate was ready to strike yet another blow.
When war broke out in the eastern part of the Ukraine, thousands of civilians were in danger, including Dima and the other orphans in Krematorsk. The orphanage was located right in the middle of the disputed territory and neither side could agree on who should be responsible for evacuating it. The children and caregivers spent a week fleeing from one place to another without enough water, food, or medical supplies. Finally, after finding out how close to death some of the children were, a group of separatists agreed to bring the orphans to the Ukrainian authorities.
The children were taken to a hospital in Charkow, where the doctors could hardly hold back their tears upon seeing Dima for the first time. The escape from the war zone had taken a drastic toll on him and he appeared more dead than alive. One of the doctors remembered it like this: “Dima and the other children were rescued from the war. In his condition and with his illness, Dima didn’t stand a chance in our country.” Workers at the clinic were so desperate that they actually contacted a priest, who prayed for Dima to find a loving family and have a chance at better life.
And Dima’s fortune did change for the better: just a few weeks after he and the other orphans were moved to a new orphanage, a couple from Vermont visited them. Ernest and Ruth Chaves had learned about the horrible conditions the war had caused and were determined to adopt a child from the region. The instant they laid eyes on Dima, they knew that he was the one.
Adoption was nothing new for the couple — they already had seven adopted children — so they were able to draw on experience and prepare all the necessary documents in record time. In September 2015, only two months after meeting him for the first time, they brought Dima home to join their big family and gave him his new name: Zebadiah Chaves.
Surrounded by his new, loving family, Zebadiah made amazing progress. Only two days after arriving, he was already able to feed himself with a spoon.
A year later, the malnourished, half-dead boy who left Ukraine was almost unrecognizable: Zebadiah could speak, he could understand two languages and he was learning how to walk. After several examinations the doctors were convinced that his brain had not suffered any major damaged from the disease and that he had a good chance of developing into a perfectly normal child.
Zebadiah still has a long way to go and will have to undergo several operations and long-term treatments, but he has shown everyone that he is a real fighter and has a strong will to live. And with the support of a big, loving family, there’s no doubt that he’ll do just fine.
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