Katiana Faro’s parents adopted her from the Ukraine when she was 3½ years old. At only 21 pounds, she had been classified as “failure to thrive,” had been emotionally and physically deprived, had no language skills and couldn’t see well. A fourth-degree bleed in her brain had left her with permanent damage, and doctors determined she had been exposed to alcohol before birth, although she didn’t have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Six months after she was adopted, it was determined she also had severe hearing loss.
“From the moment I adopted her, it was constant problems,” said her mom, Paula Faro of Katiana, now 15. “We were handling it when she was smaller. I used to have to hold her down six times a day to calm her down.”
Still, her daughter’s situation began to spiral out of control, with flashbacks and violent outbursts leading to constant visits to doctors, changes in medication and years of therapy. She endured 10 inpatient hospital admissions before a case manager finally mentioned that the Faros might want to look into residential treatment programs.
Katiana ended up at KidsPeace, mainly because it was the closest option to her New Jersey home. She stayed from February to July 2011, and though some days are still rocky, her mom says she sees marked improvement in her daughter since she has returned home.
“It was just years and years and years of daily crisis.” Faro said of the time before KidsPeace. “That summer (after fourth grade) she just started talking about killing herself all the time.”
For a long time, it felt as though there was no end in sight as Katiana acted out then developed side effects including Tourette Syndrome and seizures from her medications. But it was after she dropped two of the family’s puppies on a tile floor, killing them, that her behavior got even worse.
“Once she admitted this, she said she wanted to go to jail, kill herself,” Faro said. “She went out on the roof; she started a fire; she threatened to run away … “Coming to KidsPeace was kind of our last straw. We didn’t know what else to do. We were getting to the point that we were looking at group homes. We had gone through so many years of this and it just wasn’t getting better.”
But at KidsPeace, Katiana told her family, she finally felt safe.
“She knew that they weren’t going to let her hurt herself; other people were not going to be allowed to hurt her,” Faro said. “There was always somebody there to talk to, so she felt cared for.”
Faro said her daughter complained at first and missed her family, but since she has been home, much of her negative talk has dissipated, and she’s not as obsessive.
“I think new pathways were made in her brain, I really do, because she finally got it. It was like a miracle. I had lost a lot of hope, and obviously I don’t give up easily. But this was kind of her last shot,” she said.
Katiana is now in ninth grade, although Faro says she operates on a level more akin to a fourth grader. There are times, when she has gotten upset, that she’s actually called KidsPeace staff members to talk through her feelings. Faro said she wishes KidsPeace had a summer program to continue the positive experience her daughter had for the five months she was here because socially, she still struggles.
“She doesn’t have any friends, so she’s isolated a lot,” Faro said, adding that her daughter’s hearing loss and developmental delays make it hard for other teenagers to relate to her. “There’s still a lot of loss. She won’t be able to drive. She knows that she’s not as smart as other people. She can’t go to a regular high school like she wants to. It’s sad. That’s why it’s important to keep up her self-esteem,” Faro said. “Maybe once she’s an adult, she’ll be more able to connect with people.”
Still, her mother looks at the positive changes that are impossible to ignore. Last year, for the first time in four years, Katiana didn’t have to miss school because of her health, and she got good grades. She trusts adults now and doesn’t try to push people away.
“Now that she’s calm for the first time, I want her to just keep building her confidence and learning and moving forward to be a productive member of society,” Faro said. “I see possibilities, whereas before I didn’t know what else to do. It’s good to know that KidsPeace is always there.”
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