If you ask 5-year-old Apollo what’s so fun about his little brother Magnus (age 4), you’ll hear about Legos and toy dinosaurs, and how Magnus’ silly faces make him laugh. Ask Apollo what he loves most about Magnus, and there’s no hesitation: “I love that we both have special hearts. I love Magnus because he’s my brother.”
Magnus and Apollo, unrelated by birth, were born a year apart in China, each with serious congenital heart defects. Apollo lived in a small foster home, and Magnus in a larger orphanage, and though their experiences were different, they both waited for a family who’d consider adopting them with the heart conditions they had and medical care they’d need. What they needed most was a family open to loving them, independent of diagnoses and unknowns.
Neither could have imagined how connected their lives would become, the family that would bring them together through adoption, or the brothers they’d become.
Coming Home, Becoming a Brother
After Dana and Michael, a couple who’d been planning to adopt, learned about Magnus, they poured over the details in his adoption file and talked openly about the uncertainties they could face. Unsure whether his heart could be fully repaired, they considered the risks, and they thought also about their three daughters, Eliza, Anya, and Juliette. Their girls had been praying for Magnus before they knew he’d become their brother. They already loved him.
“We realized how serious [Magnus’] cardiac needs were and that he needed immediate life-saving heart surgery,” recalls Dana. “We cried throughout the evening as we discussed what this would mean for him and for our family.” Asking hard questions about the possibility of pain and loss, the couple came to one repeated answer about Magnus: “He is worth it.”
Adopted in 2016, Magnus became a little brother to three jubilant sisters, who celebrated him at every turn. Undergoing a critical heart surgery shortly after his adoption, Magnus’ sisters applauded his bravery and uplifted his heart, and Magnus solidified his place in each of theirs.
“Once we had Magnus, we knew he should have a brother,” Dana and Michael recall. “We knew how important it would be for Magnus to have someone growing up with him that could reflect back where he came from, … his culture.”
“My heart just leapt when I saw the photo of Apollo” says Dana, who knew she was looking at her son.
Apollo’s heart was in such dire condition, his blood oxygen levels so low, and the surgeries he needed so critical, that Dana and Michael were realistic about the challenges ahead when they’d first talked about adopting him. But just like with Magnus, they believed that Apollo was worth taking every step, even the toughest ones, and especially those.
In May 2017, Dana and her husband adopted their second child from China. Apollo came home, a son and a brother.
Brothers and Reflections:
As compared to Magnus, Apollo had a harder time transitioning into his new home. He was older, attachment was harder, and interactions, trickier. To eliminate strain on Apollo’s heart, his caregivers in China had scarcely told him “no,” and they’d worked diligently to not cause him undue stress. Upon Apollo arriving in the U.S., the surgery he needed couldn’t wait; he was home for only a week before traveling to the hospital.
Fortunately, Apollo found in his new little brother, a source of hope and courage. The scar that spanned Magnus’ chest showed Apollo what was possible: that he, like Magnus, could come back strong, that he wasn’t alone in his experience, and that he could heal.
Magnus likewise gained an important friend and big brother, someone to play with (and tattle on, as siblings will) … and as their parents hoped, someone to share his birth country and culture.
Today, these two brothers know what they hold in common holds them together: Their culture, “their special hearts”; their scars that show off their bravery; their families, waiting to bring them home after the doctor’s appointments and surgeries are done.
Since coming home last year, Apollo has had two successful heart surgeries. Between those, he and his family have faced some fearful moments. But holding Apollo’s hand in and out of the operating room are his family: parents at his side, three sisters clambering to include him at home, and a little brother, Magnus, who mirrors courage when Apollo needs it, and sees it reflected in return.
Happy Brother’s Day, Magnus and Apollo!