"I've been married 14 years, and I have 38 children," is what Mike Buchanan tells people
To be more specific, Mike, his wife, Cindy, and daughter Jennifer have fostered dozens of children during the past decade. And that was the plan when they met 7-week-old Aaron in Arkansas two years ago.
"I just fell in love with him the first time I saw him," said Jennifer, 10.
Mike says he and his wife knew this time it was different. They chose to adopt Aaron.
"Without saying a word, we just kind of looked at each other," Mike said, "Aad thought, 'We're in this for the long haul.' "
They had no idea how long, however, because Aaron's health is why he was in need of a home in the first place.
"The birth mother originally found out that he needed a feeding tube," Cindy said. "And her reaction was, 'Just let him die,' and she turned around and walked out of the hospital. The grandmother showed up once and said, 'You can keep him till he's fixed, and then I want him.' And when she found out this was a disease he'd have the rest of his life, she got up and walked out of the court room, and we've never heard from her, either."
Aaron was born with Prader Willi syndrome, a rare disease affecting about one in every 15,000 kids. There's a long list of symptoms, including low muscle tone, a muted sense of pain and, eventually, psychological problems, but Aaron's parents say the most dangerous symptom can be most easily described as a constant fixation on food, paired with a lack of communication between the brain and stomach.
"He always feels like he's hungry," says Aaron's mother, "So he feels like he's been on a 40-day fast. That's how he feels all the time. If they're not supervised 24 hours a day, they will literally eat themselves to death."
Aaron's parents take turns sleeping on the couch to make sure he does not get up in the middle of the night, and because there is not yet a cure, this is something they could have to deal with for the rest of Aaron's life. His mother said most kids with Prader Willi never live on their own.
Aaron spent his first two years of life with a feeding tube, and he has been hospitalized several times. In addition to daily shots and breathing treatments, Aaron has physical therapy three times a week, occupational therapy three times a week, and speech therapy three times a week.
Still, his parents say, given the chance to go back, they'd make the same decision again. Part of the reason they made the decision in the first place is because the Buchanans' lost a child to a rare disease in 1998. For Mike, his reasoning goes back even further.
"I'd gone through the 14 foster homes in nine years," Mike said. "I'd gone through the emotions of feeling like, 'Am I ever going to find my place?' "
Watching Aaron with his family, it's safe to say he's found his place.
"You know, it's a lot to take on, but I wouldn't trade it for the world." Cindy said. "He is everything to us, and I can't imagine our life without him."
On Aug, 14, a charity walk will be held in Oceanside to raise money for Prader Willi research. For more information, visit www.WalkForPWS.com.