Mark and Charlotte were seeking to adopt for over five years and had the process fall apart multiple times before finding their son. Charlotte and her sister were adopted as children and the couple always knew it was their preferred option.
Their first referral was a potential adoption for a child with special needs and the medical consultation with a physician in New York City left them discouraged. The family hadn’t been approved for a special needs child so it led them to look for other opinions. While researching the complex process that is international adoption, Charlotte stumbled upon research written by Dr. Dana Johnson, a pediatrician at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
Johnson founded the International Adoption Clinic, the first of its kind, in 1986. Now called the Adoption Medicine Clinic (AMC), M Physicians providers at the AMC focus on the unique intricacies associated with adoption and foster care to help parents throughout the entire process, including pre-adoption consultations, medical reviews, travel counseling and comprehensive post-adoption care.
Dr. Judith K. Eckerle (pictured in the whitecoat, next to Dr. Johnson), a University of Minnesota Physicians Adoption Medicine Physician and current Director of the Adoption Medicine Clinic, is an international adoptee herself who always wanted to be a doctor.
Eckerle laughed, “I used to ride my bike to Pizza Hut in seventh grade and worry about getting into medical school.” As a senior in high school, she was randomly assigned to shadow a physician, Dr. Dana Johnson. She didn’t realize he would become a lifelong mentor for her journey into adoption medicine. After spending time at the clinic during medical school the choice became clear.
“On the third day of my rotation I walked into his office and said this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life."
Judith Eckerle, MD, Director of the Adoption Medicine Clinic
Eckerle joined the clinic in 2007 and it’s been a perfect fit. She stated, “I have a vested interest, I see myself in the kids that come to the clinic. It’s really personal as well as professional for me to see the changes that happen with these special kids.” The passion exemplified by the M Physicians care team was evident to Mark and Charlotte from day one. Now living in Germany, the family still routinely travels back to Minnesota to see the physicians at the AMC. Mark explained:
“From the start, they were available 24/7 and gave us a very thorough checklist of things to ask, things to look at and photograph, and they came back and let us know within a couple hours while we’re on the ground in Russia… It's phenomenal. It’s not just that they’re answering the bell quickly; pediatricians in the US and Germany are all wonderful, but they’re not always studying international adoption, which brings different things, whether it’s their diet or the way they’re institutionalized. It was evident that truly nobody has a higher understanding of this than the team in Minnesota.”
Adoption medicine is unique, it encompasses psychological wellness, occupational therapy and rehabilitation, school readiness and treatment for previously undetected symptoms and screenings. Charlotte noted, “We’ve found that if you discover these issues early, you can avoid a lot of the negative outcomes that are associated with these problems later on. I have no doubt that if we hadn’t been associated with the University of Minnesota our son Niko would be in an entirely different situation. He’s a thriving kid thanks to them.”
When needed, the providers at the AMC utilize knowledge from multiple specialists at the Pediatric Specialty Care Discovery Clinic. Dr. Eckerle detailed how specific collaborations have become a huge component of their work. “As part of a grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, we have integrated occupational therapy and psychology into adoption care, giving families a comprehensive assessment.”
Being able to use cutting-edge research from a prominent academic institution like the University of Minnesota has been invaluable to M Physicians providers. “The care that we’ve received really can’t be found in other places, and not because people don’t care or don’t feel as though they understand the situations. Unless you are really focused on the medical situations that these kids go through, it's not even on your radar,” said Mark.
Even though Niko is now a preteen, the family still stays in contact with Dr. Eckerle because they recognize the value that her expertise has brought to them. Bringing families together and providing them with medical and health expertise at all stages of their adoption journey is a special type of medical care, and one that this particular family has experienced firsthand.