IAMADOPTEE is about shining a light on the way adoptees contribute to the adoption community at large. IAMADOPTEE speaks to Dr. Judy Eckerle, pediatrician and Korean adoptee, as she prepares for the second annual gala for the Adoption Medicine Clinic at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
Hey Judy, can you give us a brief history of the Adoption Medicine Clinic (AMC)?
JE: The clinic was founded in 1986 by Dr. Dana Johnson who is NICU doctor. At that time, he had recently adopted his son from India and realized that there was a lack of health knowledge surrounding adopted children and founded the field of adoption medicine. Over the past 30 years, AMC has pioneered discoveries in adoption education, clinical innovations and continued collaborations to learn more about how to help children who come from early adversity. While we always saw children from all over the world, including the USA, we recently changed the name from the International Adoption Clinic (IAC) to the Adoption Medicine Clinic (AMC) to help convey that we serve internationally adopted children as well as children from the domestic foster care and adoption system here in the USA.
What was the driving force to create such an entity?
JE: The force that created the clinic was Dr Johnson’s personal connection to adoption. This personal connection is something unique in adoption and medicine. At the AMC, there are 4 physicians that work here – 2 are adoptive parents and 2 of us are adopted people. This is very personal for us and we have a real vested interest in helping adoptive families come together in the healthiest way possible.
What compels you to work for AMC?
JE: Dr. Johnson founded the first AMC, and over the years dozens of other international adoption clinics were started around the country. However, through pure serendipity, Dana was assigned to be my mentor to “become a doctor someday” starting when I was 16 years old. He has been this incredible mentor every step of the way from medical school, residency and then arranged advanced post-doc training for me in adoption medicine here at the University of Minnesota. This AMC is the first, oldest and one of the most comprehensive programs, so when I was offered the chance to become faculty (and now Director of the AMC) it was the opportunity of a lifetime. I grew up in Minnesota but lived on both coasts, overseas and all over the country for school so I felt like I had come back home, full circle in so many ways.
Are there a couple of trends you have seen in the health and well-being of the children you serve over the last decade or so you have been working at AMC?
JE: When I first started at the AMC, there were about 20,000 children coming to the USA each year for the purposes of adoption. At least 50% of those kids were born in low resource countries but for the most part were young, healthy children. The other 50% had more obvious special needs. Nowadays, it is almost 100% of the children with major physical/medical, emotional needs or special backgrounds like prenatal exposures or histories of neglect or abuse. The cases are much much more complicated but I feel even more privileged to work with these incredible kids and their families.
Additionally, my practice now serves domestic and foster care children who have had prenatal exposures to drugs or alcohol to do a full assessment on their medical, learning and behavioral needs. I also see a lot of adopted kids who have been with their families for several years now, but come back to see us when they have a question or are struggling with something that may or may not be related to their adoption history. We have a unique perspective that it allows us to try to determine if their questions are related to adoption, have any pediatric or medical, developmental, psychological need for treatment or if it is just a kid being a kid (that happens too!)
You have a Gala coming up, can you tell us about the goal for the event?
JE: We have our 2nd Annual Care to Celebrate Gala that will be August 17th at the American Swedish here in Minneapolis. Besides being an incredibly beautiful space to celebrate, the building has a historical side and a new modern side. Just like in international adoption, we are celebrating the coming together of different cultures. We will have Cuban music playing, the most celebrated French baker in North America making desserts from Patisserie 46 and 300 of our wonderful friends and supporters dancing, eating and learning more about adoption and the AMC.
If people want to donate, how do they go about doing that?
JE: They can donate to the link below if they would like to financially support our work. We are also always looking for partners that may have other talents or time that we might be able to incorporate into our mission.
Given the increased complexity of adopted children and their families, the financial reimbursement restrictions from the US foster care system and the time to research and educate the next generation of psychologists and physicians, we rely on donations in order to keep our doors open. We operate on the slimmest budget possible (examples: 1/5th of an administrative assistant, 1/2 of a nurse’s support!) but we routinely help families who may have traveled from other countries to see us because of the lack of available clinics and resources to help adopted children. So we count on the support of those who are also passionate about adoption!
IAMADOPTEE community, here is how you can help and pay it forward!
Many thanks to Dr. Judy and her amazing team for her tireless work!