Early in 2006, speech-language pathologist Eileen Fasanella
received the news that she had been longing to hear. She, her husband, Jerry,
and their 15-year old daughter Erin were about to grow as a family. Huang
FuJing was soon to become Gracelee Alicia FuJing Fasanella.
The journey began in 2005 when they were considering
adopting a child and heard about the "waiting child" program in China that
allows for adoption of Chinese children with special needs. They applied to
adopt a 3-year-old girl with a repaired cleft lip and palate and within 10
minutes received a picture of the little girl whose life was about to change.
As an SLP, Fasanella was acutely aware of the importance of
proper cleft repair and subsequent speech-language treatment, so she consulted
with experts in these areas for guidance and support. It seemed like an
eternity—but finally the paperwork was completed, the home visits approved, the
immunizations received, visas obtained and flights booked. The Fasanellas
arrived in Beijing on June 27, 2006, and had only four days to wait until they
could meet their new daughter for the first time.
In the meantime, because of Erin's interest in becoming a
preschool special education teacher, Fasanella sought out New Day Creations
Foster Home in Qingyundian Province, Beijing. It was one of the few orphanages
that not only had a preschool for children with special needs, but allowed
visitors. Privately operated and funded, New Day is home to approximately 75
babies and children with special needs, providing them with craniofacial
surgery, cardiac surgery and other critical care needs. From the moment the
Fasanellas arrived there, they were surrounded by "nannies" eager to have the
extra help to interact with and feed the babies, toddlers and young children.
When orphanage co-founder Karen Brenneman realized that
Fasanella was an SLP, she pleaded with her to spend some time helping the staff
understand the best way to treat the speech, language and feeding disorders of
some of the children. The lack of adequately trained speech and language
professionals to help these children was immediately apparent to Fasanella, who
answered the questions she could but was unable to stay at New Day for longer
than that afternoon's short visit.
When she returned to the United States, Fasanella further
researched the SLP situation in China with colleagues, and discovered that
there are only about 1,000 SLPs in mainland China—who receive training ranging
from two weeks to six months—to serve a population of more than 1.3 billion. In
contrast, the United States has more than 115,000 ASHA-certified SLPs for a
population of 300 million.
Fasanella appealed to colleagues at the Montclair State
University Center for Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology about the need
for services to address speech, language, swallowing and feeding disorders
among Chinese orphans. She succeeded in convincing them. In 2009, she and
colleagues Joyce Liebelt, Rosemary DeStephan and I founded the Grace Foundation
to train foster care providers and orphanage staff about treatment for
The foundation began fundraising, and Fasanella and Karen
Brennemen arranged for it to dispatch a team of SLPs to visit New Day Creations
Foster Home and the Institute for Children's Welfare, a government orphanage in
Zhengzhou with 800 babies, children and teens with special needs. In January
2013, the foundation's co-founders traveled to China to begin fulfilling its
At both orphanages, New Day provided translators who
translated PowerPoint presentations that had been previously sent to China. The
SLPs presented workshops on autism spectrum disorder, infant feeding disorders,
language development and treatment, and language-based play therapy, while
Liebelt shared information on literacy. The team spent hours demonstrating
treatment and language stimulation, working directly with the children and
New Day and the Institute for Children's Welfare continue to
need supplies as well as training, and the Grace Foundation is committed to providing
both. The institute has heat in only a few rooms, and there is no hot water for
the 800 orphans. Educational toys, warm clothing, books and treatment materials
are in short supply at both facilities.
As for Grace, she traveled to her new home in the United
States with her "forever family" just after celebrating her third birthday,
which appropriately is on July 4. It was quite a surprise to the Fasanellas
that, although her cleft lip had been repaired as indicated in her adoption
dossier, her palate had not. The surgery to close the palatal cleft was
completed in October following her U.S. arrival. Grace received speech-language
treatment and had bone graft surgery in October 2010.
Today Grace is a happy, healthy, bright and highly verbal
10-year-old who seems surprised that a foundation was named in her honor.
Little does she know how many lives she has touched. It is because of her that
the Grace Foundation remains committed to continuing to serve children with
special needs in China and to expand, we hope, to other government orphanages
in the future.