Human Interest

Living big: How adoption and Down syndrome ignited a mission in one family

Kirstin Czernek, 37, and her husband, Tomas, began building their family six years ago with an adoption through foster care.

After Mia, now eight, was placed with them, they were told Mia’s mother was pregnant again. Kai, now six, was born just six weeks later. The Czerneks adopted both siblings. 

When Kai was a year old, Kirstin discovered she was pregnant. Doctors informed the couple that their baby had a 100% chance of being born with Down syndrome, and would have a heart condition requiring surgery after birth.

Kirstin told People, “It was something that had never crossed my mind. I was young, I was 29. It wasn’t even on my radar.” For the rest of her pregnancy, she allowed herself “to grieve the child I thought I was going to have.” 

As soon as Aria, now five, was born, everything changed for the Czernek family.

“I fell instantly in love,” Kirstin shared, adding, “Aria loves with everything in her. Everything she does is exaggerated. A jump, a smile, a laugh. That turns off in most of us. We stop living so big as we age. We tone down. Individuals with Down syndrome, they don’t tone down. Everything is big, everything is special.”

Even though their hands and hearts were full, they didn’t believe their family was complete yet. So they began to pray, which led to a decision to adopt another child. This time they hoped to adopt a child with Down syndrome, like Aria.

On their GoFundMe page, Kirstin said, “We quickly realized how lucky we were and felt so grateful God gave us this beautiful gift. As time has gone by our whole family has fallen in love with individuals with Down syndrome. So, when expanding our family adopting a baby with Down syndrome seemed like the perfect fit.”

The National Down Syndrome Adoptive Network, whose mission is to ensure that every child born with Down syndrome has the opportunity to grow up in a loving family, pairs families interested in adopting with agencies that can facilitate the process. The Czerneks were added to a waiting list for two years.

In September 2023, the couple was in the room when their new son, whom they named Luca, was born. He immediately needed special medical care.

“It was pretty much as bad as it gets, in terms of what can happen to your baby,” Kirstin said. Luca was born with a hole in his heart and pulmonary hypertension, and was on life support for 10 days. Luca was able to come home when he was two months old. Now five months old, he has been the perfect addition to the Czernek family.

The family uses social media to share their personal experiences with foster care, adoption, and raising children with Down syndrome.

“After Aria’s diagnosis, I would read things online about Down syndrome and everything was so negative,” she said. “When I had the opportunity to show a different side — one that was real — it made sense to me.”

“We hope that adopting this sweet child with Down syndrome will create awareness and be a catalyst for others to do the same,” Kirstin said. “We plan to raise funds not just for ourselves but other individuals with a similar passion to grow their families in this way.”

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