“I bet you didn’t know I was adopted from Lithuania,” shares Darius, smiling. The 13-year-old’s new family and life in the United States has made an uncertain future in Lithuania a distant memory. That’s because Darius, who spent the first six years of his life in an orphanage in the city of Vilnius, was born with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy.
“My wife, Noel, and I found Darius on a child waiting list through our adoption agency,” explains Paul Larson, Darius’ dad. “We knew he had a diagnosis of cerebral palsy from the beginning.” Shortly after discovering Darius, Paul and Noel Larson traveled to Lithuania to bring him home to join their family in Minnesota.
When they returned to the U.S. with Darius, his family immediately noticed the great deal of acceptance and courtesy that people showed their new son. Larson remembers taking Darius to a restaurant his second day home. They were shocked by how even seemingly minor gestures, such as a man greeting Darius as they approached the entrance, made them feel more accepted. “Darius wasn’t acknowledged a single time when we were with him in in public in Lithuania and very little of the city was wheelchair accessible,” recalls Larson. “It’s a good reminder that while we still have progress to make when it comes to attitudes towards people who have disabilities and accessibility here in the U.S., we’ve made some positive strides.”
Upon Darius’ arrival, his family also sought out medical resources to help him reach his full potential. Fortunately, those resources were right in their backyard. “When Darius came home, the adoption agency recommended we connect with Gillette Children’s right away because of their expertise in treating children who have cerebral palsy,” says Larson.
Darius’ first few weeks and months in the U.S. involved many appointments and evaluations with Gillette specialists. One of the first treatments Darius underwent at Gillette was proximal femoral osteotomies on both hips. This surgery, performed by pediatric orthopedic surgeon Steven Sundberg, M.D., improved the alignment and position of Darius’ hip joints and reduced his tendency for hip dislocation. It was also a major step towards correcting Darius’ problems with muscle spasms, which made it difficult for him to bear weight, bend his legs and control the movement of his legs.
Darius and his family feel at home at Gillette. “We always leave our appointments feeling like we have a strong advocate for Darius and our entire family,” says Larson. “There’s a comfort you feel when you see a specialist who treats many other patients who have the same condition as your child.”
Despite physical and cognitive challenges caused by cerebral palsy, Darius continues to exceed expectations. “He learned English in six months and in the span of five years, he’s adapted to a completely new culture,” says his dad with pride.
With his life in Lithuania long behind him, Darius isn’t looking back. When he isn’t playing with his brother, Darius participates in softball in the summer, basketball in the fall, and takes adaptive skiing lessons in the winter. He has also become a role model for his classmates. According to his teacher, he even tries to stop his classmates from saying mean things and bullying. Darius explains his philosophy with ease. “I just treat people how I would like to be treated.”