With 3 young patients, family (happily) puts miles on minivan

Ann and Rick Beery knew as they adopted three children from China, one by one, that they would spend hours in doctors’ offices and waiting rooms. Each child has complex medical needs requiring years of treatment.

The Beerys have traveled dozens of times to OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital with their sons, Paul and Joseph, and daughter, Angelina. It’s not an easy journey. Driving from their home in Pasco, Washington, they put 15,000 miles on their Toyota minivan in just one year, Ann says.

But instead of being a burden, those hours and miles are at the center of the family life Ann and Rick always wanted. Their children’s OHSU Doernbecher care teams have become like family, too.

During a recent visit to OHSU Doernbecher, the children hugged and chatted with doctors and other providers. Angelina, 7, playfully grabbed some of their badges and clipped them to her flowered pinafore. Paul, 11, and Joseph, 9, were more reserved but got back to playing and wrestling before long.

Family photos show each of the children smiling with caregivers after surgeries, a testament to their bond.

“At Doernbecher, they just love kids,” says Ann. “The kids feel that.”

The Beerys knew they wanted at least three children when they married in 2006. Both come from big Catholic families – Rick has five siblings, and Ann has eight. But because Ann was poisoned with a farm pesticide at age 20, they couldn’t have biological children.

They decided to adopt but didn’t want to wait years for high-demand infants. After learning that wait times were much shorter (around 18 months) for children with medical issues, they embraced that idea.

They requested children with cleft lips or cleft palates. These birth defects leave a large gap in a child’s lip or the roof of the mouth, posing cosmetic issues and sometimes problems with eating and breathing.

Learn more about treatment for cleft/lip palate and other craniofacial disorders at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

Yet Ann and Rick knew that, with skilled care, the children could have normal lives by the time they turn 18.

Paul came into the family in 2009, at age 2 1/2. Rick and Ann met him in a hotel lobby in northern China. It didn’t take long after they were introduced for Paul to begin laughing, stacking blocks and playing tag with Rick. It was, the adoption agency told the Beerys, “one of those one-in-a-million transitions.”

Paul had scarring from a cleft lip repair and still needed surgery to repair a cleft palate. The Beerys first took him to Portland’s Shriners Hospital for Children, located on Marquam Hill with OHSU. Dr. Anna Kuang, a pediatric plastic and craniofacial surgeon who practiced at both, told them Paul could be treated sooner at OHSU Doernbecher.

Tests showed that he had little hearing, a surprise to the Beerys.

“It was like he was underwater,” Ann says. “He could only hear vague sounds.”

Physicians repaired his palate and inserted ear tubes. After years of therapy with OHSU Doernbecher speech-language pathologist Janet Brockman and other providers, Paul’s speech is nearly perfect.

Paul knows he’s lucky and wants to help others. Last year, he raised $150 at a yard sale to pay for cleft surgeries in China. He’s thinking about becoming a veterinarian.

“It feels fun helping dogs and cats,” he says.

Joseph joined the Beery family in 2011, a month before he turned 3. They thought his medical issues had been resolved in China, where he had a spinal growth removed. But as time went on, they became concerned with his delayed physical growth and toileting issues.

Learn more about treatment for tethered cord at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Lissa Baird, a pediatric neurosurgeon at OHSU Doernbecher, discovered that Joseph had tethered cord, a condition in which the spinal cord is abnormally attached to the spinal canal. She did surgery in 2003, just in time to prevent paralysis.

It’s because of the surgery at OHSU Doernbecher, Joseph says, that he can walk. And, he says proudly, he’s a good runner.

“I’m faster than my whole class,” he says.

Angelina, the last to arrive in 2013 just after turning 2, was born with a cleft lip as well as a cleft in her gum line. Her lip was repaired in China. OHSU Doernbecher doctors did surgeries in 2016 and 2017 to improve her lip and nose. Next up will be orthodontia to prepare for a bone graft on her gum ridge.

Angelina is the family’s heart-stealer, with charm and toughness and a special attachment to her caregivers. Two Halloweens in a row, she dressed up as Dr. Kuang, and she talks about becoming a “shot doctor.” Her favorite television series? “Spirit Running Free,” an animated show she says is “about horses that care about each other.”

Their personalities are emerging, their mom says. Paul is caution. Joseph is mastermind. Angelina is spirit.

At home, the Beery children love Legos, playing baseball, swimming, reading, going to the park and wrestling with cousins and one another. Family photos show the kids holding school awards, baking with their mom, dressed up for church and visiting a fire station.

They also show the kids clowning with their OHSU Doernbecher health care teams, recovering from surgeries and taking those long road trips. Their medical time is an extra layer in a happy family life, a part of their story the Beerys are happy to share.

Dr. Leo Urbinelli, a pediatric and plastic surgeon, believes OHSU Doernbecher’s focus exclusively on children helps create a bond between families and providers.

“I think you have to treat kids differently,” he says. “They’re not just little adults. They have different psyches, different healing properties.”

He credits Rick and Ann for instilling the children with remarkable self-confidence.

Ann, a consulting sports psychologist and three-sport athlete in college, found a kindred spirit in Dr. Urbinelli, who was a competitive wrestler at Cornell University.

“I’m all about the team,” she says.We are blessed that OHSU does everything as a team.”

That teamwork and the family’s deep Catholic faith help them prepare the children for the ups and downs ahead, Ann says. Each child still needs years of medical care.

“We tell them that God created you and that everyone suffers,” she says. “How you handle whatever you have will determine how your life goes.”