It’s terrifying to imagine a 7-year-old child only weighing 8 pounds. Unable to grow or gain weight since birth, Ryan Morse was starved and covered in hair due to malnutrition.
He was living in an orphanage in Bulgaria, but despite their best efforts to care for him, they feared he would soon pass away. In 2015, that changed with a woman from Nashville, Tennessee saw his photograph on Facebook.
After seeing the heart-breaking photographs, Priscilla Morse knew she had to help. “When I saw a photo of Ryan in the orphanage, I remembered my brother had similar needs and the care he needed before he died.”
Morse was adopted when she was growing up. She and her husband adopted their first child four years prior to finding Ryan. “I begged my husband if we could [adopt] him for months, I just had to look after him.”
It was in July of 2015 the jewelry business owner went to Burgas, Bulgaria to visit Ryan and bond with him for two weeks. In October, she was able to fly back to Bulgaria and bring Ryan home.
“It’s a beautiful country, but they don’t have funding to take care of the kids, they do the best they can,” said Morse. “All he needed was a feeding tube. What was killing him was starvation.”
“The first time I saw him, I walked into his room and the first thing that went through my head was that he was going to die. It was shocking, photos don’t do it justice. He looked even smaller in real life.”
As soon as they returned to Nashville, Ryan was immediately taken to a hospital. “We went straight to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, we didn’t even go home to see our kids.”
“They told me if that happened in America it would be national news because it was so shocking, to be starved for seven years. They didn’t think he would make it.”
Saving Ryan from starvation wasn’t easy. At first, he suffered from re-feeding syndrome and had to wait before his body could even handle a feeding tube. He would also swallow air to feel full and regurgitate food to mimic eating.
Finally in March of 2016, he started to gain weight after they switched the young boy to a Jejunostomy feeding tube (J-tube). “It took months of training his body to accept food. He didn’t trust there was food coming in the orphanage so he had learned to regurgitate food to stay alive.”
Ryan is finally starting to make sounds, laugh, and move more after suffering from muscle atrophy. Small improvements on the surface level, but giant leaps for a boy who was 7 years old and the size of an infant.
‘It’s going to take years. But I think he would have died if we hadn’t got him,” said Morse. “He’s the happiest kid I’ve ever seen, he wakes up happy and goes to bed happy, he very rarely cries. Our other kids love him – he’s the baby of the family.”
Although Ryan is still undergoing testing, doctors believe he may have cerebral palsy and a form of dwarfism. The young boy looks completely different after one year’s time. Now 8 years old, he’s gained 15 lbs — leaving him at a weight nearly three times what he was just a year ago.
“I would really urge parents thinking of adoption not to overlook kids with disabilities,” added Morse. “It is a struggle, you have to have a dark sense of humor. If you can’t laugh you won’t make it. But these kids are worth it.”
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