As Dr. Ellen Kempf wraps up a 35-year career in medicine, she reflects on her grand achievement – the creation of Akron Children’s Hospital’s Oak Center for Global and Adoptive Health.
For the past 10 years, Dr. Kempf has been a lifeline for parents on their adoption journey. Here, she discusses how it all began.
How did the center come to be?
In 2004, I was serving as the medical director of Akron Children’s primary care network [now known as Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics]. I was also the director of Reach Out & Read and would plan an event whenever this program began at one of our offices.
We invited Vanita Oelschlager, a local children’s book author, to be a guest reader at one of these events. Vanita told me her daughter had recently adopted a baby from China and the reality of getting her healthcare services after arrival was difficult.
Vanita and I kept in touch and I shared with her my idea for a center that helps families through the adoption process. Vanita and her husband, Jim, gave Akron Children’s a generous $2 million gift to make this a reality and the center was named after Jim’s company, Oak Associates.
Was the Oak Center the first of its kind?
I visited several other programs around the country and did a lot of research. About 15 children’s hospitals had programs focused on international adoptions, which had rapidly increased in the early 1990s.
I thought that parents undergoing domestic adoptions were also in need of the same services. The triad of medical, developmental and behavioral health support was a unique model that could support both domestic and international adoptive families.
What are some of the special things you do?
We assist families before, during and after the adoption. Medical records from other countries, as well as from our own, can be very sketchy, vague or absent. We help families put the puzzle pieces together, getting a better assessment of the child so the parents can be prepared and educated about the needs and issues of the child.
Preparation and knowledge are the keys to success.
You continued to learn, not only from your continuing medical education, but from your travels. What are some of your observations?
I have visited orphanages and cared for children in South Korea, China, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and Haiti. Every country has a different adoption process. Some are better than others.
Most people who work in orphanages are loving people, but there is only so much one adult can do when assigned to 40 infants.
Do families come back to the Oak Adoptive Center after the adoption process is complete?
Many of our families visit us years after the initial adoption when a health condition arises, if school challenges emerge, or issues of personal identity surface. We try to celebrate a child’s adoptive history and empower the child, family and school to celebrate their adoptive journal as well.
It must be very fulfilling to have created something that is so near and dear to your heart that will live on and help families for years to come.
Dreamed it, designed it, built it, and now we’re caring for kids from all over the world, and their families!
What’s one thing you have learned from these past 10 years?
Kids are kids no matter where on the Earth they are born. I have learned that the world is really a small place and we all need to work together to improve their lives. They’re the future.