“I give you this teddy bear so you can always remember this day,” the Judge said as he handed the small brown bear with a pink ribbon to 15-year-old Jordyn Wilkins.
In a Twin Falls courtroom, on Sept. 6, Claudia Harris formally adopted her granddaughter and made their family permanent.
Harris has been taking care of the teen since she was 5 years old. In 2010, Harris became her legal guardian.
Their bond is more than just that of grandmother and granddaughter.
“We’re more like roommates,” Harris said. “But, I have the final say. If she doesn’t want to eat what I’m eating, she cooks something else.”
The day is one that they’ll remember forever, but it was a long time in the making.
Harris was told in the past that as a single grandmother, she would not be able to adopt her granddaughter. She was left feeling that she didn’t have any options.
Six years ago, Harris was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. After treatment, she went into remission, but in June, she was informed that the cancer had returned in her left lung.
When a social worker at St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute (MSTI) asked Harris how she wanted her family to remember her legacy, she said she wanted to adopt her granddaughter.
Through the help of St. Luke's MSTI staff and a local lawyer, her dream became a reality. With both of Wilkins’ parents signing off on the adoption, the Judge, under oath, asked all parties involved if this was the best option for Wilkins. All said “yes.”
Throughout the court proceedings, Wilkins beamed at her grandmother.
“She’ll belong somewhere now,” Harris said. “She feels safe, like someone wants her. Jordyn said, ‘You’re my grandma.’ I don’t need to be her mom.”
Legally, Harris can now call herself both mom and grandma to Wilkins, who is a sophomore at Canyon Ridge High School. Wilkins likes to run and “has a big heart.
“Jordyn is not a child of a lot of words. She has a beautiful voice. She is a good student and does her homework. She loves animals,” Harris said, rattling off a list of her granddaughter’s many attributes.
If Wilkins follows in her grandmother’s footsteps, she’ll need to add “strong” to that list. Harris is a fighter and plans to battle the cancer.
“Six years ago, when I went through it before, I was doing two different forms of chemotherapy. They said you lose your hair and I didn’t lose my hair,” Harris said. “I went to back to work after treatment and no one knew. So, either I have a strong ego or I pulled off a miracle because they didn’t know.
“You do what you have to do because I had a child to feed and you get a purpose and a drive.”
In Harris’ case, that purpose is absolutely selfless. It’s about the others in her family, and it extends to encompass Harris’ other grandchildren as well.
“I needed to get my ducks in a row. I could live for another 30 years or you could get in a car wreck tomorrow, but at least Jordyn and my other grandchildren are taken care of,” Harris said.
Standing in that courtroom, holding a brand new teddy bear, Wilkins can always cherish the memory of her adoption day. A wonderful way to remember that silver linings do exist.
St. Luke’s: Serving the Unique Family
Every family is different. This is why St. Luke’s Unique Families Program serves to support adoption placement and surrogacy arrangement, and helps ensure that the sensitive and individualized care needs of migrant and refugee communities, inmates, and victims of sexual assault and domestic violence are met.
Families from around the world are attracted to St. Luke’s facilities because of the specialized staff training and collaborative approach to care, Melissa Ward, St. Luke’s Unique Families program manager said.
“We partner with a variety of local, national, and international organizations, such as adoption and surrogacy agencies, the Boise Women’s Correctional Facility, community midwives, and birthing centers, all to ensure that every family has the best possible experience.”
St. Luke’s is one of only two programs in the nation focused on supporting the adoption community, and that focus has expanded to surrogacy and the needs of the inmate population, with good reason.
St. Luke’s Unique Families Program Admissions
Fiscal Year 2015 Fiscal Year 2016
Adoptions: 24 Adoptions: 11
Surrogacy: 30 Surrogacy: 80
Inmates: 7 Inmates: 18
The need for the program continues to increase. From fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2016, there was a 157 percent increase in pregnant inmate admissions and an overall increase of 79 percent in the unique family population.
“Society changes, and healthcare needs to change with it, to ensure we’re providing the best care and experience,” Ward said. “This is why St. Luke’s is nationally recognized, and why we provide the most comprehensive Unique Families Program in the nation.”
Michelle Bartlome is the public relations manager at St. Luke's Magic Valley.