March 1st marked the end of one journey and the beginning of another for a remarkable little girl by the name of Amber. She is now part of our family as my youngest daughter and her husband were named permanent legal guardians by the court effective March 1st. This has been a long process but has been worth the wait.
Amber was born a little over 5 years ago to parents who unfortunately were substance abusers. At the age of 3 months she fell ill with meningitis and as a result is severely disabled with numerous chronic health conditions. Her grandmother JoAnne, a friend of ours, realized that her son and his wife could not properly care for Amber so she quit her job in Minnesota to move to Louisiana. It wasn’t long and she had Amber in her custody and was loving and caring for her and working hard to get her the necessary medical care .
In September of 2005 Hurricane Rita hit the Gulf Coast and as a result, JoAnne and Amber had to evacuate. They were unable to return to their home and after being shuffled around ended up in a shelter for hurricane victims where JoAnne connected with some medical personnel from the Mayo Clinic. They were able to look after the medical needs of Amber and strongly suggested that she leave Louisiana and go back home to Minnesota. Arrangements were made to have a friend fly down and the two of them packed up JoAnne’s car and headed north.
Amber and JoAnne got settled into Luverne with the help of friends and JoAnne began the task of seeking proper medical care for her granddaughter. The Mayo Clinic was accessible, with the help of her contacts made in Louisiana, and Amber was able to get a proper evaluation of her medical needs. They were able to establish a routine and JoAnne went back to work. Amber was enrolled in Children’s Care Hospital and School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota where she could receive therapy during the day.
My daughter, Alicia, was working at Children’s Care while working on her nursing degree so it seemed only natural that JoAnne would ask her to care for Amber when she was working and Amber was not in school. Alicia and her fiance David, learned how to care for Amber but also bonded and grew to love her during this time.
In October of 2006 tragedy struck again. Amber’s father had decided to get on a bus and come to Minnesota to visit his child and mother. He never made it. He was found dead on the bus in Kansas City. JoAnne was devastated. Her son had his faults but she still loved him. She buried her son in Louisiana and returned to continue with her life.
That life would be tragically cut short. On April 4, 2007, less than 6 months after laying her son to rest, JoAnne, at the age of 55, had unexpected massive fatal stroke. We were all shocked and saddened. Amber had lost a caring grandmother who probably saved her life and we all lost a dear friend. After the funeral attention immediately turned to Amber. Who would care for her? Who had the legal right to care for her? Those questions would take almost two years to be answered.
Amber was placed at Children’s Care until a temporary foster home could be found. My daughter and her husband, without hesitation, decided that they wanted her in their home. JoAnne had spoken highly of them to her family so they were in agreement that Amber would do well with Alicia and David. Once all the legalities were taken care of Amber was placed in their home. I had my concerns that they were taking on more than they could handle but when I thought about it, I knew the bond and love between them was strong. I knew my daughter had the medical knowledge and experience. I also knew that her background prepared her to be an advocate for what was in Amber’s best interest.
Permanent placement was still an issue. Amber’s mother had already lost custody of her and another sibling so that was not an option. It looked like David and Alicia would get permanent custody of Amber. But things are never as easy as they look. Amber’s maternal grandmother decided that she might want to have custody of the child. Thus, the long legal process began. There were many hearings, delays, more hearings, home studies, depositions, etc. The local Rock County Family Services agency was totally involved in the process. As advocates for Amber, they were in agreement that she should stay with my daughter and her husband. A guardian ad litem was appointed by the court and I must say that he worked tirelessly to keep Amber here. Rock County’s interest was of course represented by the county attorney and Amber’s mother had an attorney appointed for her. The testimony of the medical team that had knowledge of Amber’s condition was very important. They were all in agreement that because of Amber’s fragile health a move would not be in her best interest.
A two day trial was finally scheduled for January of this year and we all anxiously awaited the day. The parental rights of Amber’s mother were to be terminated which would allow the court to then decide custody. We were confident that all the evidence, testimony, and depositions would make the decision easy but always aware that the biological family has an edge. On day one of the trial there was another delay. Alicia and David waited anxiously. After several hours it was apparent what was going on. Amber’s mother had decided unexpectedly to voluntarily agree to allow the court to appoint David and Alicia as permanent legal guardians. This action by her was a surprise but I believe it was an act of love for her child. She knew that she could not provide the necessary care.
We are all elated of course that Amber will stay as part of our family. She has touched all of our lives. Her dog, Rose, watches her like a hawk. Logan, the newest member of David and Alicia’s family converses with her in their own special way. We have all learned a lot about the court system, family services, disabilities and being advocates for those who cannot speak for themselves. Amber’s medical condition is very precarious at times but Alicia and David are able to recognize when she is in distress and take appropriate action. We do not know how long she will be with us so we treasure every day that she teaches us about life.
Peace & solidarity,