Son turns couple into a family
From a Kazakhstan orphanage, Milo now calls West Ashley home
BY BO PETERSEN
Four-year-old Milo Ruopoli yells for his parents to watch and bounces up and down on the divan. He jumps from running finger rolls on the piano to banging on the djambe drum.
"Let's make music," he yells to his parents.
The Ruopoli family does.
Regina Ruopoli first saw her child two years ago, as a cell-phone image from half a world away. His left eye crossed nearly into his nose, his right eye stared uncertainly at his Kazakhstan orphanage surroundings.
The disability already had been a deal breaker for some four prospective adoptive couples. Regina just kept staring at him.
"I kept looking at his little hand wrapped around a nanny's finger. I kept seeing my hand holding him," she said. "He was absolutely beautiful."
One unlucky toddler was about to become the luckiest child in the world.
Tonight, a banquet takes place in Summerville to raise funds to help families cover the costs of adopting children and paying for services for them. It's one of a number of low-key events taking place recently to recognize the need for and rewards of adoptions.
The cruel bottom line is that most adoptive parents are waiting in line for a healthy white baby. The odds shrink as a child gets older, has special needs or is a different ethnicity.
"Most people want a newborn or a toddler, and the longer they stay in foster care the more issues a child might develop," said Denice Fisher, director of A Chosen Child Adoption Services in Summerville.
For Regina and Frank Ruopoli of West Ashley, it wasn't an issue. Frank himself is an adoptee. Even as they tried to conceive a child, Regina found herself hoping it wouldn't happen. She wanted to adopt.
"I mean, there are a 143 million orphans in the world right now," she said. "We wanted a child and somebody out there needed a home. It wasn't easy, but it's the proudest thing I've ever done. It's just natural."
When she saw Milo's disability, she got on the Internet to do research. She realized that surgery could help his condition, and that he might never get it without the Ruopolis. He might spend his childhood in the orphanage, then be faced with the prospect of a life on the street as an outcast.
The marketing communications professional and her graphic artist husband took out an equity line of credit on their home and handled the hurdles one by one.
He has since had the surgery.
When the Ruopolis arrived at the orphanage for a two-week bonding visit with Milo, she sat him in her lap and he sat there, virtually catatonic, drooling. He had spent most of two years lying in a crib.
She didn't know yet that he was blind in his left eye, and the crossed-eye disability was an unusual, particularly difficult-to-fix one. It didn't matter.
She held him awhile, then gave him to Frank and got down on the floor in front of them. Frank stood Milo on the floor and held him by his arms.
For the first time her child looked her in the eye. She was in love.
"You want him to have perfect vision. You want him to have perfect everything. But who's perfect, adults or children?" she said. "I saw a spark, and I saw the corner of his lip move, just a hair, like he was trying to smile and just wasn't ready yet. I thought, OK, there's somebody in there."
Within a few days, he became the "exuberant, smart, fun-loving boy he is today." After they had to leave to go home, he would come to his door every day at the time of their visit, stand there and cry.
It would be another month before they could return for the court date, another six weeks for Regina in Kazakhstan before they could clear the red tape and bring him to Charleston.
During a layover in Memphis, she caught her carry-on on the escalator, tripped and cut her knee. People crowded around, asking if they could help. She just began bawling.
For the flight home in a dark plane, Milo asleep at her chest, Frank and her family waiting anxiously, she couldn't quit crying. She had her child home.