Man Gives Up His Marriage to Raise His Son with Down Syndrome
He refused to give up his son despite overwhelming pressure. A year later, baby Leo is happy, healthy and adjusting to life with Down syndrome. Would you have been strong enough to make the same choice?
A Devastating Decision
On January 21, 2015, Samuel Forrest received the heartbreaking news that his newborn baby had Down syndrome. To make matters worse, he was living in Armenia and not his native New Zealand, and his Armenian-born wife held a number of prejudices and misconceptions about children born with disabilities.
“She had no idea what Down syndrome really was,” Forrest said, “or that there was hope. The doctors had told her Leo would never learn to walk or talk or feed himself.”
His wife gave him a choice: abandon the child in an orphanage or she would leave him.
“I got the ultimatum right then,” Forrest said. “She told me if I kept him then we would get a divorce.”
Forrest chose his son.
An Unexplainable Condition
According to Down Syndrome Education International (DSEI), more than 200,000 babies are born with Down syndrome every year. It’s a genetic disorder that can affect any newborn at any time; it strikes by random chance, and parents of children with Down syndrome are often completely healthy and genetically “normal.”
So what causes it?
Scientists aren’t sure why some genes are corrupted into Down syndrome, and what’s more, there are no known preventative measures to stop children from being born with the disorder. This makes prenatal screening the only way to tell before birth if a child will have Down syndrome.
The good news is that modern medicine has greatly prolonged the life expectancy of children born with Down syndrome. In 1983, the average life expectancy was 25 years old; today, as long as the affected person doesn’t have additional medical issues like congenital heart defects, they can expect to live between 60-80 years.
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Hope for the Future
After his wife’s ultimatum, Forrest decided to cut ties with her and take baby Leo back to New Zealand.
“The doctors took me in see him,” he explained, “and I looked at this guy and I said, he’s beautiful. He’s perfect and I’m absolutely keeping him.”
To make the move, however, Forrest needed a lot of money that he didn’t have. He decided to start a GoFundMe account called “Bring Leo Home” and advertise it to the media in hopes of attracting awareness and funds.
After appearing on ABC News, the fundraising account amassed more than $500,000.
“I woke up in the morning and it was rolling over like a speedometer,” Forrest would later tell reporters, describing the sensation as a “shock.”
With money in his pocket, Forrest was able to fly baby Leo back to New Zealand and begin a new life with the support of family and friends. He even re-established contact with his wife, Ruzan Badalyan, and convinced her to visit.
After holding her son in her arms for the first time, Badalyan realized what a mistake she’d made, and she integrated herself back in her family’s life. She began attending Leo’s therapy sessions, and the pending divorce between her and her husband was cancelled.
“She’s turned out to be a wonderful mother,” Forrest enthused.
“I love Leo very much,” Badalyan agreed. “One year ago, I couldn’t imagine life with him, and now I can’t really imagine my life without him. He’s changed me so much. I can say I’m a different person now.”
Today, Leo is a bouncing baby boy with a happy disposition and a wicked sense of mischief.
“In many ways,” Forrest explained, “he’s not really different than a lot of other children.”