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Couple found time to adopt nine children

BY AMY FLOWERS UMBLE

George Dennehy’s American life began with a small, blurry

black-and-white photo on the back of an adoption newsletter.

Sharon Dennehy saw the photo of the Romanian baby and knew

he belonged in her family. But her family and friends weren’t so sure. She and her husband, Mike, had three biological children—a trio so happy and cute they seemed custom-made for a Christmas card photo.

This baby didn’t fit. For starters, he was born without arms into a poor Romanian family that couldn’t take care of him. And he was severely malnourished. At 14 months, he weighed only 9 pounds.

His stark medical record ended eerily with “This boy will soon die.”

The doctor thoughtfully left a space for the nurse to record the time and date of the baby’s death.

Some of the couple’s friends thought they’d lost their minds. Others asked if they had enough time and attention for another child, especially one with so many needs.

Mike and Sharon knew only that George needed them. And in 1995, they brought the baby into their Ashland home.

That blurry photo didn’t just change George’s life; his adoption inspired Mike and Sharon to adopt eight other children. In total, the family has 12 kids from six countries.

Friday, they’ll share their story with Fredericksburg-area residents at Bethany Christian Services’ fellowship dinner, an annual event to promote adoption.

The couple will talk about their nine adopted children, and the extraordinary way each one came to the family.

AN INTERNET SENSATION

This summer, George made another remarkable journey, this one triggered by a shaky video shot with a cellphone.

George, who plays guitar with his feet, performed the Goo Goo Dolls’ song “Iris” at the Ashland Strawberry Faire in May. A friend recorded the concert and put the show on YouTube.

George posted the link to Reddit, with more information about his adoption.

The video soon went viral, making George an overnight Internet sensation. The video was seen by thousands of people across the world—including the Goo Goo Dolls’ drummer, Mike Malinin.

Malinin tweeted an invitation for George to perform with the band.

At first, George’s father assumed it was a joke. But the invitation was real, and in August, George sat onstage with the Goo Goo Dolls, plucking chords with his toes and singing “Iris” to a crowd of thousands at Musikfest in Bethlehem, Pa.

“It was amazing to see this boy who once was almost dead up there onstage with the Goo Goo Dolls,” Mike Dennehy said. “The whole place exploded with excitement.”

A ROMANIAN REUNION

The performance was just the beginning of a remarkable series of events for George.

A Romanian teenager saw the video of George’s performance and recognized the brother her parents gave away for adoption. She went online, and the siblings reunited via Facebook.

Then a European TV station saw the video and offered to reunite George and his birth family in person.

In August, a crew filmed George’s biological mom fainting when she saw her son in person, no longer a scrawny infant fighting for life.

Mike and Sharon had sent George’s biological parents photos throughout his life, so the Romanian parents knew he’d grown up to be a strapping teenage boy.

But every day, George’s biological parents told him, they prayed for one more miracle—that they could one day see him in person. George’s mom clung to him tightly after she was revived from fainting. She then prayed fervently, thanking God for the reunion.

For George, it was a joyous experience meeting the parents who gave him up but still loved him. And George, already a brother to 11 children, met his four biological sisters for the first time.

TELLING THEIR STORIES

George and his parents hope that their story will resonate with potential parents on Friday. George was adopted through Bethany Christian Services, and Mike, a software salesman, sings the agency’s praises.

The Fredericksburg office has placed 30 kids with families this year, said director Mary Beth Bova. It usually has plenty of adoptive families but always needs parents willing to adopt special-needs or minority children.

Each year, the agency hosts a dinner for area residents interested in adopting. At this year’s dinner, Mike Dennehy plans to talk about the joys and challenges of adoption.

He will tell stories of each of his nine adopted children, including two who were exposed to drugs before birth and three who are missing limbs.

Mike and Sharon, a stay-at-home mom, adopted seven of their children internationally, and two through foster care in Connecticut. They adopted two sisters from Ethiopia, only to learn a year later that the girls had a third sister. So the Dennehys went back to Africa to bring the older girl into their family.

“People always say, ‘I couldn’t do what you do,’” Mike said. “To us, it just feels like we didn’t do that much. We filled out a bunch of paperwork, we flew to a bunch of countries and brought back a bunch of kids. And now we just make more food.”

Shopping and scheduling are the two biggest issues, Mike said. The family calendar always has a dental appointment on the horizon. And feeding the family requires twice-weekly trips to Costco.

“It’s like running a small army in terms of logistics,” he said. “But the flip side is all the miracle stories we see happen. There have been crazy good things happening lately.”

Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973

aumble@freelancestar.com

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