Months after Denise and Zach Bielke adopted two-year-old Eleanor in late 2014, they noticed a concerning change in their daughter’s behavior.
“She was anxious about being separated from us and felt unsafe in new situations,” Denise said.
It was clear Eleanor was having difficulty controlling her emotions, and the family struggled to find ways to help her cope. For answers, they turned to Adoption Medicine Physician Judith Eckerle, MD, at the University of Minnesota Health Adoption Medicine Clinic.
It wasn’t the first time the Bielkes had reached out to Eckerle and the clinic. Before Denise and Zach adopted Eleanor from Nanjing, China, they consulted with Eckerle and the clinic specialists. When Eleanor first arrived in the United States with her parents, the family visited the clinic for a complete health assessment. Upon leaving the clinic that day, the family booked a handful of future appointments and set a new course for Eleanor’s care.
Eleanor had surgery in February 2015 at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. A care team led by Pediatric Surgeon Bradley Segura, MD, PhD, performed major repairs to correct a congenital cyst that had a serious impact on her liver and created abnormal connections in her abdomen. Following the surgery, the family spent ten days at the hospital as Eleanor recovered.
Eleanor’s anxiety began after the after the surgery and their post-surgical appointments. Troubled, the Bielkes asked Eckerle for help. Eckerle referred the family to another member of the Adoption Medicine Clinic’s care team: Pediatric Psychologist Maria Kroupina, PhD.
Eleanor’s early life experiences in institutional care and her medical history were a perfect fit for Kroupina’s expertise. To help Eleanor heal, Kroupina focused on parent-child relationships within the family and enrolled the family in the University of Minnesota Health Birth to Three program.
The Bielkes learned how to talk with Eleanor to help her feel safe and secure. They were given strategies to help Eleanor maintain her emotions and manage her stress. Over time, Eleanor became more confident—and was even able to walk into the first day of preschool all by herself. Now, the family feels empowered to embrace new situations with their new motto: “You’ve got this!”
In May 2018, Eleanor will celebrate her sixth birthday. She has made tremendous physical and emotional progress, according to Denise Bielke, who believes they owe much of her success to the Adoption Medicine Clinic’s care. A few years ago, the Bielkes wondered whether Eleanor would feel comfortable in new situations without her parents by her side. Now, she embraces life, loves school, her friends, dance class, panda bears, and Queen Elsa from the Disney film Frozen.
Eleanor will continue to receive medical care from a multi-disciplinary team that includes an audiologist, an ophthalmologist, a hematologist, a pediatric surgeon and a gastroenterologist. The family also plans to continue to seek advice from Eckerle, who they say is their greatest advocate.
“Our family owes so much gratitude to the Adoption Medicine Clinic, because the clinic helped us through every step of Eleanor’s growth and development,” Denise Bielke said. “We are also grateful to the University of Minnesota Health community for understanding the important role the clinic plays in helping families. We are more confident about the future knowing we are a part of this community.”