Lee and Karen Shervheim have seven children, including two girls, Katie and Emie, who are adopted and have Down syndrome. They also have one biological, 11-year-old daughter who was born with the condition. The Shervheim’s started considering adoption after thinking about the kind of companionship they wanted their daughter, Annie to have.
Lee explained, “Between my wife and I, we couldn’t get it out of our heads. So many children need families and we knew we could potentially do something about it.” During the adoption process, they discovered that many babies with disabilities are abandoned in Eastern European countries. The Quad Community reports that these children live in orphanages until they are five or six and then they are sent to mental institutions.
In 2007, the Shervheim’s went to the Ukraine and started the paperwork to adopt two children with Down syndrome. Ultimately, the process took less than a year and the couple stayed in the Ukraine for six-weeks to finalize the adoption. Although they were thrilled to welcome the girls into their home, they were also honest about the change it brought to their family. Lee said, “The unvarnished truth is that bringing those two kids in our life, whether they had a disability or not, was really disruptive to our family. They came with so many issues that we had not anticipated.”
However, the Shervheim family found support through local community programs and now works with a personal care attendant who helps them a few times a week.
Katie, Emie and Annie are all involved with the ECFE program at Otter Lake Elementary School and participated in the Young Athletes Program through the White Bear Lake YMCA until they got involved with the Special Olympics Minnesota White Bear Lake team. The girls participate in the bowling, basketball, and track and field events and Lee volunteers as a coach.
“There have been so many doors that have been opened for our family as a result of having kids with disabilities,” said Lee. “So many amazing things have happened. We never would have met such amazing people if our girls didn’t have a disability.”
Lee said that he will keep setting the bar high for his daughters and encouraging them to follow their dreams and passions. He wants to see his daughters lead active and healthy lifestyles, live independently with appropriate support, be able to drive cars, and fall in love and get married.
“We have high expectations for them, regardless of their Down syndrome diagnoses,” said Lee. “That’s just part of them being a part of my family.”
Now the Shervheim family is working with an advocacy group called Partners in Policymaking, which teaches about the history of the disability movement and how people can be a voice for those with conditions like Down’s on the state and federal level.
Lee wants to help his daughters do whatever they want in life despite their disability. He said, “One of the things I was thinking about as a dad is, ‘What do my daughters’ futures look like?’ I think my girls can do almost anything they want to do and that’s what I want to help them become.”
Additionally, he said he wants to serve on a panel that shares about the worth and value of people with disabilities. He concluded, “The message is that it really doesn’t matter where you started or where you came from. There are endless opportunities for everyone, whether they have disabilities or not. They deserve a shot.”
Photo Credit: Quad Community