Angela Levin published “The Romanian orphan enjoying his first time at Oxford” in the Telegraph on November 11th. I just discovered it thanks to a list serve for adoptive parents. Cornel Hrisca-Munn is studying Philosophy at Oxford now, but he was discovered by his adoptive mother languishing in an orphanage in Romania. He was born with incompletely formed arms and a severely deformed leg. Levin’s story emphasizes the odds Cornel Hrisca-Munn has overcome, his personal strength and determination, and the support provided by his adoptive parents.
The story immediately resonated with me because when we first met Monkey Man in Vietnam, we had inklings that perhaps he had some challenges that we did not know about. Unlike the other five month-olds in our adoption group, he could not hold his head up while lying on his belly. He couldn’t sit up independently. When we held him up in front of a mirror, he did not respond, and we wondered whether he could see.
Upon our arrival in Chicago, we took Monkey Man to see a pediatric ophthalmologist who ordered an MRI to evaluate his optic nerves. We learned that Monkey Man has smaller than normal optic nerves, but he has them. We also learned that Monkey Man has some malformations in the left hemisphere of his brain. He has difficulty activating his right arm, and learning to walk was a much more deliberate and long-term process for him than it is for most children. Monkey Man’s physical challenges do not limit him or define him; Monkey Man is energetic, loving, funny and intellectually curious. He has an incredible memory.
When he was just three, I took him to see one of his doctors, and Monkey Man noticed that the curtains in the room were covered in sailboats. Several months later, we visited that doctor again. Coincidentally, they put us in the same room, and Monkey Man asked me where the sailboats were.
I was worried and anxious when we got the news about Monkey Man’s brain after the MRI. The neurologist was not optimistic in his prognosis and suggested that Monkey Man might not ever walk or talk.
Monkey Man has gone far beyond those predictions and he continues to astound us with his determination and spirit.
Ed never believed the neurologist — he was always optimistic and positive about what Monkey Man would do.
Another of Monkey Man’s doctors was optimistic and hopeful in his predictions, and he pointed out that Monkey Man’s curious mind, his loving environment, and Gorilla Girl’s examples, would all encourage him to develop, grow and surprise us.
Monkey Man’s specific physical challenges make it hard to him to navigate on challenging surfaces. Uneven surfaces and hills, and climbing structures, like playground equipment, challenge him. A few days ago, I watched Monkey Man on the playground. He climbed up a big hill, and at the top lost his balance and tumbled backwards. He got up, brushed himself off, and continued to climb. Upon making it to the top, he ambled to the playground equipment, ingeniously climbed up onto a high platform, and made it down the tube slide, just like any other four year old. For Monkey Man, climbing that hill is like climbing a mountain, and “motor-planning” to get onto the playground equipment takes, well, planning.
Levin’s story of triumph for Cornel Hrisca-Munn, born in Romania to a very grim future, illustrates the power of the human will to overcome astounding odds. Loving families, however they are formed, can play an instrumental role in aiding the triumph.
I don’t know what the future holds for Monkey Man, but I do know that he will continue to develop and that wherever his interests take him, we will be there to support and love. Oxford might not be in his future, but at this point, I won’t rule out anything. The world is open to Monkey Man, and he has lots of energy, love, and spirit to give back.