Local family trying to bring medically fragile girl home from Ukraine

Jacob Mueller, 6, plays in the sandbox Thursday outside his new home in Stringtown. Jacob was adopted from Ukraine and arrived in the US on July 18.

Jacob Mueller, 6, plays in the sandbox Thursday outside his new home in Stringtown. Jacob was adopted from Ukraine and arrived in the US on July 18. Hannah Baldwin/News Tribune

STRINGTOWN, Mo. -- A Mid-Missouri family is facing dire circumstances as they attempt to bring home a medically fragile, malnourished 9-year-old girl they have adopted from Ukraine.

Although the breakout of a regional war and the crash of a Malaysian airliner haven’t helped matters, it is a computer glitch in the U.S. State Department’s global database that really created problems for the family this week.

Although the legal adoption process in Ukraine has been finalized, returning home to Stringtown has proven to be a nightmare for the Mueller family — particularly for father Jacob Adam Mueller and his new daughter, Zhanna.

Mueller is the pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Stringtown.

Although the rest of the family made it out of the country in mid-July after seven weeks overseas, Mueller and Zhanna are still scrambling to get home.

The whole situation has been complicated by Zhanna’s fragile medical condition, Mueller’s wife, Dalas, said Thursday.

Although 9 years old, Zhanna only weighs 25 pounds, the young mother added. She has spent her life in a “laying room,” possibly sedated and still dependent on bottles and diapers. It is because of that frequent sedation that she likely missed meals, Dalas surmised.

She acknowledged that adopting a child with special needs can be intimidating.

“Once we met her, it wasn’t scary. You realize: This is just a little girl,” Dalas said. “She has such a joyful, happy, bubbly personality. She has such spunk. It’s amazing to me that a child can lay in a crib for nine years, with very little stimulation and interaction, and still has as much life and happiness as she does.

“At the same time, her condition is not great.”

As of Thursday, Dalas said her husband reported — via Facebook messaging — that Zhanna is experiencing significant digestive distress.

“The State Department realizes she needs to get out as soon as possible,” Dalas said.

The family is working with a doctor at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center to admit her into the hospital as soon as she arrives here, Dalas said.

The couple is actually adopting two children this summer from two different regions of Ukraine: a 6-year-old boy the family renamed “Jacob William” and Zhanna.

“It was extremely grueling process to do two adoptions in different regions,” Dalas said.

Jacob William — a blond-haired, cheerful tyke who loves to play in the sandbox — is adapting well to his new home.

The couple also has two biological children, 4-year-old Evangeline and 2-year-old Stephen.

Dalas said throughout the majority of the trip, the adoption process was easy.

“We really had no complications … it was a relatively smooth process and we were very blessed … until the very end,” Dalas said.

Dalas, Jacob William, Evangeline and Stephen made it home safely on July 18 — just a day before Stephen’s second birthday. (The decision saved the family the cost of a $700 plane ticket for the “baby.”)

Jacob Mueller Sr. and Zhanna were to follow the next day.

“We planned to take her out of the orphanage and have her back here two to three days later. And the plan was just to get to Kiev, get her passport, get her visa stamped, go home. The night before the morning her passport was supposed to be issued, the Malaysian airlines jet was shot down in eastern Ukraine,” Dalas said.

Although the passport arrived by train, it caused a delay. (Typically passports can be flown to the adoptive child’s city.)

Dalas explained: “They went to the passport office with another family. The other family got their visa, no problem. My husband waited there for three hours at the embassy — no diapers, no food. He thought it would be quick in and out five minutes.”

The State Department’s global database for issuing travel documents had crashed, resulting in major delays for people around the world waiting for U.S. passports and visas, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

According to the Associated Press, unspecified glitches in the department’s Consular Consolidated Database resulted in “significant performance issues, including outages” in the processing of applications for passports, visas and reports of Americans born abroad since Saturday, according to spokeswoman Marie Harf. She said the problem is worldwide.

“We apologize to applicants and recognize this may cause hardship to applicants waiting on visas and passports. We are working to correct the issue as quickly as possible,” she said.

Harf said the problems with the database have resulted in an “extensive backlog” of applications, which has, in turn, hampered efforts to get the system fully back on line.

The database is the State Department’s record system and is used to approve, record and print visas and other documents to ensure that national security checks are conducted on applicants.

“The representatives in the consular office in Kiev have been really wonderful. They’ve been going above and beyond, but their hands are tied until the State Department can act,” she said. “Missouri congressional representatives have been working on our behalf, as well.”

At the moment, the earliest that Jacob Mueller and his new daughter will be able to get out of town is Tuesday, when the first flight leaves.

“Our last hope is that we can somehow get some kind of exception made,” Dalas said.

Dalas said it’s not clear when the computer system will be repaired.

“So unless there’s a way for them to issue her a visa without it, we’re trying desperately to find a way to do that … there’s no way for her to get out until probably Tuesday. Typically no flights leave on Monday.

“We are starting to get concerned about how long this is going to go on,” Dalas said. “It’s hard right now. Just not knowing when it’s going to end.”

More information about the Mueller family can be found at: reecesrainbow.org/sponsormueller and crunchylutheranmommy.com.

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