One morning after waking up early, Karrie Cannell was online and discovered a website of an organization that is dedicated to promoting and sponsoring adoptions of special needs children around the world. It was there she saw Carson, an orphan in Eastern Europe who has a rare skin disease, epidermolysis bullosa. After seeing his pictures, she felt drawn to the boy.
“It just broke my heart,” she said.
She texted her husband, Donnie, who was out of town on business, and asked him how he felt about adopting the little boy. A little unsure at first, he promised they would talk about it once he returned.
A couple months had passed before they talked about him again. Then, one day last October, the Lodi couple knew adopting the eight-year-old boy was something they had to do.
The two had never thought about adoption since they already have eight children — and one of them, Jamie, has the disease. It was for this reason they felt they had the ability to care for Carson.
“We are trying to save a life. It literally happened overnight. We felt like God was calling us to do it,” said Karrie Cannell.
Through various people they have met, the Cannells found out Carson has a brother, John, who is just 11 months older than him. The brothers have been separated for two years and live in two different regions.
The Cannells knew without a doubt that they must adopt both boys.
“It has just been amazing how everything has come together with finding the brother,” said Donnie Cannell. “Even the adoption agency didn’t know about him.”
What is epidermolysis bullosa?
Epidermolysis bullosa, or EB, is a rare genetic disease that is characterized by the presence of extremely fragile skin and recurrent blister formation, according to the Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa Research Association of America website. The slightest touch can cause the skin to break, causing painful blisters and open wounds.
In the United States, about one in 50,000 babies are born with the disease.
Karrie Cannell said many patients of this disease have trouble eating. Their tongues are sometimes fused to the bottom of their mouth. They have trouble swallowing food and have to have a procedure every few months to open up their throat.
They also have trouble standing for long periods of time due to blisters on their feet. Sleeping in bed can be tough because the sheets can cause blisters. It’s hard for them to take a shower because they water is painful when it hits them.
“She can’t remember a time where she hasn’t felt pain,” Karrie Cannell said of Jamie.
Caring for EB patients is similar to the care given to burn patients. For severely affected children, it can take up to six hours a day to bandage them up, said Karrie. It can take two hours a day to bandage Jamie, she added.
Karrie Cannell describes the disease to others as being like dirt, roots and grass. With EB, there aren’t any roots, just grass. It’s just the skin sitting on top of the child, she said.
When Jamie was a baby, it was hard for Donnie Cannell to adjust to the way EB babies must be handled. Picking them up underneath their arms hurts them, he said.
The hardest part for him was when Jamie first started attending school. People thought she was contagious and he had to explain to both the children and the teachers that it is not something a person can catch, he said.
The Cannells have been married for almost six years. They have eight children between them; six of them are between the ages of 3 and 19 and are still living with them.
Donnie, 44, works as a plumber and pipefitter and begins his day at 4:30 a.m.
Karrie, 43, is a stay-at-home mom. She spends her days taking the older children to and from school. The two little ones stay at home with her. She also takes the children to activities they are involved in such as dance lessons, T-ball, chorus and youth group.
“You name it. It’s anything you can think about that the kids are involved in,” she said.
The Cannells are members of Temple Baptist Church and often spend their time at church activities. Sundays are their family days and they frequently go to the beach or to the zoo.
“We always try to do things together, where it’s not just a couple of us but all of us together,” said Donnie.
The adoption process
To begin the adoption process, the Cannells had to commit to turn in an application to Reece’s Rainbow, the website where Karrie first found Carson. They then had to meet with a social worker and fill out pages of paperwork that included physicals, fingerprints and financial documents.
Recently, they received what the adoption world calls their “golden ticket,” which is the approval form the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to adopt.
The couple was told it could take up to two weeks before they heard anything. Two days later, they were sent the approval.
“I cried. I couldn’t believe it. I walked to the email and there it was,” Karrie Cannell said.
The Cannells have to raise $48,000 in order to bring the boys home. The money will cover various costs such as plane tickets for the two of them and for the boys, for passports, visas and an apartment to stay in while they are in Eastern Europe.
There is also a team there that is helping them through the process. Some of the money goes to that team.
Bridget Van Nice, of Reece’s Rainbow, works as the middle contact between the Cannells and the adoption team in Eastern Europe. She is trying to do all she can to help the Cannells gather the funding that is needed, she said. She says the boys will be a great fit for their family.
“I’m super excited for them. I know that they have a lot of experience with EB and I know they are going to be great parents and advocates for their kids,” she said.
To date, the Cannells have raised $18,000 through various fundraisers that has included various raffles, pizza nights, a spaghetti dinner and garage sales.
“You ask everyone you know to help,” said Karrie Cannell.
Linda Opp, a friend through the church, wanted to find a way to help. Since her family is musically inclined, she decided to set up a benefit concert to help raise the remaining $30,000.
She admires the couple for giving the boys a chance to have a normal life.
“I think it’s incredible that they are willing to go through all stress and emotional roller coaster to adopt,” she said. “These are people who love God and are trying to put into action what benefits the boys.”
The concert will be held on June 12 at 7 p.m. at Temple Baptist Church. It will include a performance by the Campbell Creek Gang and classical music and Christian contemporary music featuring a saxophonist, bassoonist, pianist, vocalist and a guest oboist. The Cannells will share their story at the event.
Once the Cannells raise the money that is needed, they will travel to Europe, where they will stay for eight weeks before bringing the boys home. While there, they will meet the boys, wait for a court date, finish paperwork and wait the required 10-day waiting period.
The couple hopes to show the boys what it’s like to be loved and to have a mom and dad.
The pending adoption has changed their lives. They now have a heart for adoption and will advocate for it in the future, said Karrie Cannell.
“It’s completely changed our life — from not having it in our minds to it being everything we do now,” added Donnie Cannell.
Contact Features Editor Pam Bauserman at email@example.com.