Changing Wandy’s world…

Wandy Contreros  received remarkable gifts of love and patience during her stay with us.  She traveled to Detroit from the Dominican Republic for treatment of her serious gastro-intestinal problems and found a loving host family in Pete and Janie Livingston and their four sons, of Grosse Pointe.  Wandy’s story, which Janie tells here, is an excellent illustration of the fact that our host families offer HTC children gifts that could not be bought at any price.

If I could have turned back after the first week I just might have done it.  Wandy was the third HTC child to stay with our family.  The first two were between four and six, and they seemed to adjust to their new environment as if they had lived here before. 

But for Wandy, age eight, the adjustment
was almost unbearable, for both of us. 
I know that sounds selfish, since I wasn’t
the one who had traveled to a foreign
land where people spoke a different
language.  I wasn’t dealing with the absence
of my family and new neighbors who were
strangers.  I was not about to undergo
extensive surgery with no comprehension of the pain it would involve, the taxing recovery that would follow, or the hoped-for result.  I also am a heck of a lot older than Wandy.

All that being said, I still wondered if I was in over my head. My husband, Pete, and I have four boys (ages 12, 10, 9, and 7).  Our house is generally filled with lots of commotion and noise.  I mean this in a positive way.  There is laughter, music (drums, guitar, piano), sporting events of every kind, friends and neighbors hanging about, toys (but not a single Barbie until Wandy arrived)--and while Wandy was here we even purchased a puppy.  Commotion . . . yes!  Fun . . . YES!!!  With all that goes on in a day at our house, I had naively thought that perhaps Wandy would be so overwhelmed that she wouldn’t even have time to breathe, much less cry.  That’s the way it had been with the other HTC kids we hosted.

But Wandy cried.  She cried and cried and cried for two long weeks.  She wasnever angry, just tremendously sad.  I tried cuddling and holding her.  Pete spoke Spanish to her.  Luke, Grant, Wilson, and Oliver did anything and everything to try to make her smile. (Wilson was bending over backwards -- literally doing backbends.)  I tried making foods that would taste familiar and played music from the Dominican Republic.  Yet despite our efforts, this was not her home, I was not her mom, the boys were not the siblings she longed for, and if she could have, I’m sure she would have said that she’d never signed up for this deal in the first place. (I’m certain this was her mom’s idea.  She really did know what was best for Wandy.)

So far this seems like a pretty unsettling story; the good news is that there’s a happy ending . . . .an incredibly happy ending.

Wandy stopped crying after what seemed to be an eternity but really was just

two weeks.  She just stopped.  She either ran out of tears and or realized that she could trust us and that we would do anything for her.  She began playing with the boys, laughing, running, jumping, singing, and dancing (oh, my, can this girl dance!).  She was silly and fun.  The boys began to form a bond with her, and when they found out she could sing the Sponge Bob song in Spanish it sealed the deal. They were friends and will be forever. 

We know that the quality of our lives changed
just as hers did.  We gained a friend for life. 
Today we find ourselves repeating funny
“Wandyisms” with big smiles on our faces. 
We are better off for just knowing her.  

I am so glad I could not turn back.  At first I thought
I was in over my head; now I know that I am simply
just head over heels.

 Wandy’s pediatrician was Dr. Laura Clark.

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Wandy picked up English in no time and even spoke with sarcasm and humor. She was simply a blast to be around, and we are in love with her.  While she was here the boys wanted to show her everything, and she was always game.  She tried new foods and drinks.  She built snow forts and snowmen. She learned to ski, rollerblade, ice skate, jump on a trampoline, and swim. She played soccer and tennis.  She tolerated hours and hours of the boys' Little League baseball games and cheered through every inning.  She went to the movies and fell in love with popcorn.  She went to a Tigers game and loved the hotdogs.

Wandy tried everything and did it with a smile.  I wish everyone could have met her.  She was simply beautiful.  She had long, super-curly hair (mind you, I’m the mom of four boys who have super-short hair, so this was quite a challenge).  She had a smile that was radiant and a laugh that was deep and infectious.  She sang every pop song, she danced every dance, she cuddled in chairs with the boys and fought for the captain’s chairs in the car.  She stood up for herself when necessary and piled on top of the heap in a wrestling match. She was the perfect fit in our family.

In the six months Wandy was with us she went through a series of uncomfortable tests and two large and successful surgeries.  She was born with an imperforate anus and had come here so that her colon and rectum could be reconstructed and her colostomy removed. Dr. Joseph Lelli performed the procedure at Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Wandy made everything seem easy, although we know it was otherwise.  She was as brave as any warrior.

On the day before her ninth birthday, we were able to send Wandy home healthy
and happy. Her quality of life was far better than before.  She felt confident and proud.