The Jennings Family:

Parent Fran with Adopted Child Selena

The Jennings FamilyFran cannot imagine a life without her adoptive daughter. Selena was one pound, seven ounces when she was born and suffered a grade four hemorrhage in the brain. As a result, Selena is partially blind, and suffers from seizure disorders and cerebral palsy, which she continues to battle today.

"I began fostering Selena when she was four months old," Fran proudly says. "She has only been away from me for eight months when she was placed in a nursing home in September 2008." Fran vividly remembers how heartbreaking and lonely it was when Selena was not with her. "She is a constant joy to have around. My family accepts her the way she is and we love her for the unique child and individual she is." Fran is also a foster parent to one-year-old Kayla.

Despite the medical challenges Selena faces, the Jennings family remains optimistic. "The doctors indicated Selena wouldn't live very long, but despite that diagnosis, she has beaten the odds," explains Fran. Tube feedings are administered by Fran and family members on a daily basis, and everyone is willing to pitch in with all necessary tasks. "We take turns lifting Selena in and out of her wheelchair to visit places," says Fran. Fran's 35-year-old daughter lives within a couple of miles, and has two children of her own. "The grandchildren love spending time with Selena," she says. In addition, Fran's son comes to visit often and is a big help to his mother.

Selena, who is now 12, thrives when she is around people. She is steadily moving forward in all aspects of her life. She attends a local public middle school where she participates in course work with other children with disabilities. Recently, Selena took part in the Special Olympics in Ft. Myers, where she bowled and participated in the bean bag toss. "She welcomes any challenge and activity that comes her way," says Fran.

The transition from foster parent to adoptive parent was fairly simple for Fran due to the constant connection she kept with Selena's medical specialists and adoption agency. Fran advises individuals looking into adoption to be prepared to go through many changes.

"Look at your expectations of what you want from a child and the child's needs," Fran says. "If they fit together, then it can be a beautiful thing. Keeping your eyes and heart open is significant."

Fran stresses the importance of making sure special needs children are taught all basic skills. "I don't put limits on Selena." The therapists, teachers and doctors have been an integral part of Selena's success. "Maintaining a positive relationship with my community has helped me tremendously," says Fran. "I focus on the here and now, and don't get bogged down on trivial things. I don't get overwhelmed with what ifs - I'm ready to do it again when I wake up in the morning."

Fran, who believes setting realistic goals for Selena is critical to her well-being, says, "Selena has great potential and it's important to keep her momentum going. She is a true survivor."

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