When New Zealander Samuel Forrest, living in Armenia with his Armenian wife, first heard the cries of his newborn son, the last thing he expected was for everybody — the doctors, the nurses, even his newborn sons’ mother — to turn on the baby and reject him, simply because he has Down Syndrome.
“This pediatrician walks out of the room with a little bundle — that was Leo. She had his face covered up and hospital authorities wouldn’t let me see him or my wife. When the doctor came out, he said ‘there’s a real problem with your son.'”
When told that Leo had Down Syndrome, Samuel tells ABC News, he said he had few minutes to absorb the shock of it all. But he never expected the reaction Leo’s condition would cause, especially from Leo’s mother.
“I got the ultimatum right then. She told me if I kept him then we would get a divorce.”
She followed through with her threat and divorced him one week after Leo was born. Samuel is now broke and almost homeless in a poor country that cannot provide the support his son needs. His wife’s family wants nothing to do with him or the baby, for fear that it will bring shame to the family.
Samuel is trying to raise enough money to return home to New Zealand, where Leo can get the care he deserves. A GoFundMe account has been set up with the goal of raising $60,000 to bring Leo home.
In first world countries like New Zealand, having a baby with Down Syndrome, while not without its unique challenges, is not an automatic death sentence for the child. A strong social welfare system, coupled with a culture that tries to accommodate individuals with developmental disabilities, means that kids born with Down Syndrome will likely grow up to lead fulfilling and normal lives (or as close to it as possible).
The situation is entirely different in Armenia, Samuel has found out. His GoFundMe page explains some of the difficulties babies with Down Syndrome, and other “defects,” face in the former Soviet republic.
“In this tiny, landlocked country renowned for its hospitality, scores of babies are abandoned each year, for reasons ranging from physical or intellectual disabilities and minor ‘imperfections’. This practice of abandoning children due to disabilities is unfortunately widespread throughout Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, resulting from a culture which refused to accept human defects. Health professionals estimate that 98% of all Down Syndrome babies born in Armenia are abandoned, every year. These abandoned babies are often placed in squalid orphanages, where they live and die, rejected and forgotten by society.”
As of this post, the GoFundMe account has raised $28,000 of its goal of $60,000 needed to bring the dad and his baby with Down Syndrome home to New Zealand.
[Image courtesy of GoFundMe]