first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2“Maybe it was because I was in foster care,” said Donna, explaining why she adopted the girls. “I have a brother who is mentally retarded, and I think that’s what drew me into it, too.” Medical problems are not uncommon with foster care children, since many have faced abuse and neglect at the hands of their parents and caregivers. When they first enter the court system, about 80 percent have a chronic medical condition, such as asthma, failure to grow, or problems with seeing and hearing. Some have multiple illnesses. The Del Alto girls represent a minority of foster care children who are deemed medically fragile and whose varying conditions require special care. There are as many as 400 of them among the 30,000 foster children living in Los Angeles County. At 5, Jozee is the oldest of the four sisters and requires the most attention. Her birth mother, suspected of being on drugs, had left her alone in a bathtub. The near drowning damaged her brain, leaving her partially paralyzed and unable to see or speak. Two years ago her throat became paralyzed after recurrent bouts of pneumonia. The brown-haired Jozee lay in a recliner in the family’s living room this week for a tube feeding. Her sisters touched her arm, talked softly to her and watched for any reactions. The child lifted her arms and hands from time to time, as if waving. LANCASTER – The girls’ adoptive names are tributes to the hardships they’ve overcome. Heaven was born addicted to drugs. Serenity had a hole in her brain. Miracle needed a liver transplant. And then there’s Jozee, whose name doesn’t follow the same ethereal pattern as her sisters. Born Josephine, she nearly drowned at 8 months and suffered brain damage. Her adoptive parents knew she might remember her birth name and didn’t want to confuse her with a completely new one. Born to transients, prisoners and teen moms, the girls got their starts in life in foster care. Medical conditions made their ride through the hard-knock system even tougher. But that ride came to an end when they were adopted by foster parents Donna and Ernesto Del Alto of Lancaster. Donna sees Jozee’s movements as signs of improvement. The activity confirms for her that she made the right decision for surgery to help Jozee breathe after the paralyzation. Doctors had discouraged the operation on the girl who they’d diagnosed as semi-comatose and had recommended that she die naturally. “I said `save her,”‘ the 42-year-old said. “She fought so hard to live. I don’t feel she’s ready to go.” The Del Altos have been foster parents for 10 years. Along the way they learned of children in the system with severe medical conditions, ranging from cancer to Down syndrome, who need foster parents. They were interested and wanted to help. When children with severe medical conditions, such as cerebral palsy, don’t find foster parents, they’re usually placed in pediatric facilities in hospitals where they receive round-the-clock supervision, said Jose L. Galindo, social worker for the Department of Children and Family Services. Galindo said those with less debilitating conditions, such as diabetes, can live in other care facilities, such as homes that medical staffs regularly visit. The thought of a sick child living without the comforts of a home troubled the Del Altos, who then became certified to take them in. Donna also enrolled in nursing school. When the first foster call came through, it was to take in a baby with a broken bone in her hip. She was in a cast from the waist down. She wasn’t in their care long before the baby’s grandmother came forward to claim her. Then Miracle came into their lives. They saw her in the hospital, bloated and with eyes and skin yellowing because her liver was malfunctioning. When they learned she could die, the Del Altos weren’t sure they wanted to take her home, wondering if their family could handle the heartache. But the next day the couple visited her again at the hospital. This time they brought their children Tony, 23, Angel, 21, and Emmalee, 17. After explaining the circumstances of the sick baby who lay before them, they asked their kids what they should do. “Take her,” they said, shuddering that she could die alone. But she thrived. As did Jozee, who came next, then Heaven and Serenity. And while their medical conditions are under control for now, the girls could still face more difficulties in the future, including mental health problems, whether it’s from trauma they endured as babies or possibly passed on genetically. Donna and Ernesto have taken classes on mental health and said they are ready to look for the signs as the girls get older. So will they adopt more children? At first Donna said no, but in the same breath she changed her answer to “probably after I finish school.” The couple is waiting to see if the girls have siblings in the system who are searching for permanent homes. Sitting in a recliner, Ernesto grinned at the four girls while a Barney video played on the wide-screened TV in the living room. As the program played, 5-year-old Miracle danced across the floor while Serenity, 2, followed step. Heaven pulled a small suitcase into the room and pulled out a tiara, which she adjusted to fit her head. Growing up in a family with 12 brothers and sisters, Ernesto said he’s at home with all the commotion the kids make. “What can you do?” he said and shrugged. “They all need love.” [email protected] (661)257-5254160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img