Inspiring Stories: One mother's journey through adoption and neuroblastoma (w/VIDEO)

November 20, 2014 | by City of Hope

On Jan. 1, 2015, six City of Hope patients who have journeyed through cancer will welcome the new year with their loved ones atop City of Hope's Tournament of Roses Parade float. The theme of the float is "Made Possible by HOPE." The theme of the parade is "Inspiring Stories."

Here, Kari Penner shares the inspiring story of her battle for her son. 

Kari Penner with son Adi Kari Penner, left, fought to get the best treatment for her now-son Adi, whom she met in a Romanian orphanage and who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma before he was even 2 years old. (Photo courtesy of Kari Penner)

By Kari Penner

In 2002 at age 20, I decided to move to Romania for one year to volunteer in an orphanage. More than a year went by, but I couldn't bring myself to leave the precious children there.

In July 2003, a newborn who had been abandoned at birth was brought to the orphanage when he was 2 months old. This was Adi.  In November 2004, Adi now 16 months old started getting sick. He had high fevers for a week and blood tests revealed severe anemia. More tests were run and in early December 2004 and Adi was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nervous system that started on his adrenal gland and spread to his bone marrow.

I got to work researching and trying to find treatment options for him. I tried to get him to the States for treatment, but I didn’t have any luck. Children in foster care are not allowed to leave the country.

I felt like there were two options: Walk away and don’t look back, yet live with regret – or fight alongside this precious child and adopt him as my own.

I chose Adi.

At 23 years old, I became a foster mom to precious Adi who was fighting for his life in Romania. I lived with him in his hospital room. He endured 10 months of IV chemo and surgery. I had researched treatment options and read about an oral chemotherapy drug that had promising results for neuroblastoma patients. Unfortunately the drug wasn’t available in Romania, so our only hope was to get Adi to the States.

In December 2005, we were allowed to come to the U.S. for a month, and a friend connected us with City of Hope and Clarke Anderson, M.D., a specialist in neuroblastoma. He reviewed all of Adi’s medical records and regretfully informed us of an extremely high risk of relapse – between 80 to 90 percent due to the lack of aggressive treatment Adi received.

Dr. Anderson wrote a letter to the Romanian government informing them of the need for Adi to receive treatment in the United States. He also prescribed the oral chemo medication that Adi could continue to take while in Romania.

Neuroblastoma survivor Adi Penner and mom, Kari Adi, shown here with mom Kari Penner, has had no recurrence of neuroblastoma. In fact, he's an all-star baseball player and dreams of going pro for the Dodgers. He and his mom are shown here at a Dodgers game. together. (Photo courtesy of Kari Penner)

God showed incredible favor on us and, even though the adoption process was long and challenging, the outcome was beautiful. After three years of paperwork, court dates, lawyers, social workers, visas and immigration, Adi was officially adopted on Feb. 11, 2009, and we moved back to California on May 6, 2009.

I am proud to say that Adi is also cancer-free. He never relapsed despite the huge odds against him. Although he still has to go for checkups twice a year, with the help of the amazing doctors at City of Hope, he has won the war against cancer.

It has been an incredible blessing to be a part of the City of Hope family. Dr. Anderson and the pediatric staff are so warm and friendly; we feel at home there.

We are so excited to be riding on this year’s float in the Rose Parade and share our journey with others. We didn't lose hope, even when the odds were stacked against us.


Read more about City of Hope's Rose Parade float.

Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

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