Heidi Schulz's journey to Haiti began in Bloomington, Ind., nearly 20 years ago.
Missionaries had brought Gertie, 6, to Indiana from Haiti for desperately needed medical care. Complications from an infection in her leg had her near death.
"She had just everything going against her," Schulz said. "At 6 years old, she was just 22 pounds."
Gertie was considered unadoptable. But not to Schulz and her husband at the time, David Melick. She became the couple's first child.
Touched by the experience of their new daughter, the family began making mission trips to the Caribbean country. Each trip inevitably compelled them to consider another adoption.
During the next decade, the couple added five more children to their family, including two girls and two boys from Haiti.
Among those the Jan. 12 earthquake forced onto Haiti's streets without food and water was Schulz's oldest son, Fritz Melick, 31, who lives in the country.
The family finally got through to him a few days after the quake and verified his safety.
"Of course we were concerned and just wanted to know he was OK," Schulz said. "He's young and healthy, so I wasn't as worried for him as I was for the younger children, who you can see from the news coverage are just listless."
In the wake of the disaster, those images have spread concern about the fates of Haitian children -- particularly orphans -- and sparked interest in adoptions.
It's not uncommon for tragedies of Haiti's magnitude to cause a surge of inquiries about adoptions, said Alice Padgett, an Augusta lawyer who practices family law and handles adoptions.
"I expect an onslaught in the next few weeks," she said.
The Family Counseling Center of the CSRA, a licensed adoption agency in Augusta, has received several calls from people interested in Haitian adoptions, staff members said. The center handles home studies for people who are adopting.
Schulz, who is a Columbia County gifted program teacher and has 11 adopted children, said the process can be complicated, internationally.
"The process from Haiti with adoption has always been difficult," said Schulz, who also has adopted from the U.S., Ethiopia and India. "With Haiti, you're also dealing with a corrupt government, and they don't always have the technologies we have."
The U.S. government has expedited some Haitian adoptions that were in the pipeline but has halted new adoption applications from the country because the Haitian government is still not fully functioning. Officials also want to reduce the risk of human trafficking or separating a child from his family.
Gertie Melick, who now is a mother to 1-year-old Jayden, doesn't have many memories of her native country but said she has watched as the tragedy has unfolded.
"I feel sad. I've been watching everything," she said. "I want to help out."
Her sister Grace, 16, who was adopted from Haiti as a toddler, said the outpouring of support for the country has been a positive amid the tragedy.
"It's hard because of all the destruction," the Lakeside High School student said. "It's also good to know that people are helping other people."
As for her patchwork quilt of adopted siblings, Grace said, that's part of what makes the family fun.
"It's always good to have a big family," she said. "It's like having a big heart."
Reach Erin Zureick at (706) 823-3217 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heidi Schulz, 43, has adopted 11 children from four countries.
NAME - COUNTRY
Fritz Melick - Haiti
Israel Melick - Haiti
Gertie Melick - Haiti
Gilly Melick - Haiti
Grace Melick - Haiti
Elijah Melick - U.S.
Sonya Schulz - U.S.
Angel Schulz - U.S.
Jamalcolm Schulz - U.S.
Faith Schulz - Ethiopia
Hope Schulz - India
Want to adopt?
Applications for new adoptions in Haiti are not open because of the earthquake, but here are resources to check when the process opens again:
- Reaching Hands Adoption Ministry at Warren Baptist Church (Contact: email@example.com)
- Georgia Center for Adoption and Foster Care: gaadoptionresources.org