The Blevinses and Maria


It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.”

–Psalms 118:8

    The Blevins family story is not dissimilar to those that you have read. It started with love.  Gary and Dorothy had been thinking about adopting an older child to augment their family. 

    They already had three biological daughters, and began looking into international adoption to bring a child into their stable and loving home. They felt drawn to an older child since they had already done the “baby thing” with their first three.

    Dorothy finally got down to doing the research one day in July 2000. Like many, she went on to the Internet for information. She wasn’t looking for any particular child to adopt, just information about the process.


   The first site she came across for general information was It is one of the better-known and well advertised places on the Internet. Many agencies have ads on it.


   From she found her way to their photolisting — which listed children from all over the world and the United States. She looked at a few of the children — but one caught her eye and held her attention, much to her surprise.


    Her name was Maria, and she was a fragile, special needs little girl whose picture showed her standing near a walker.  The description of Maria was short and to the point: she was special needs and she required a forever family.  She had lovely, fine black curls shaping her face.


   This little girl was of course the future Maria Blevins. Dorothy couldn’t get the little girl out of her head — there was just something about the girl’s eyes that she couldn’t shake.


   None of the other children on the photolisting tugged at her the way Maria did. And when she showed her husband Gary the little face on their computer screen, he concurred. Maria was on the first step to becoming part of the Blevins family.

   The Blevinses followed the normal course that one takes in finding out about listed children. They contacted the listing agency —  Building Blocks and Denise Hubbard. 

    When Dorothy spoke directly with Denise she was told Maria was housed in an orphanage in Buzovgrad, Bulgaria.  Denise was very happy to have found a home at long last for Maria.

    Unfortunately, the Blevinses were ignorant about the procedures involved in an international adoption. They did not know the first thing about Bulgaria, the length of the process and the unscrupulous people involved in placing children from foreign countries.

    Denise did not say anything to “sell” Maria on the Blevins. Maria had already made their way into their hearts, so Denise’s sales talk was just information on how to get Maria home.

    Denise took advantage of their ignorance and preyed upon them. She led the Blevins to believe many things — a quick adoption being one of them — while not fully backing up what she was telling them with a concrete timeline or what path the documents really took.

        Bulgaria, however, was a country that they were unfamiliar with.  Dorothy told me that she and Gary, like ourselves, had to go and look Bulgaria up on an Atlas.  However, it would become a very important country to them within a few days.

     The Blevinses had never been out of the country before which made Maria’s adoption more interesting to them.

     A few days after contacting Denise and finding out where Maria was located, they were thrilled and excited to receive several photos of Maria along with two short videos of her on Aug. 9.  A day later another short videotape arrived.

     The still photos of Maria showed her on the steps of the orphanage, the others of her standing in her walker.  The two brief videos appeared to have been shot when Maria was15 months old and the other when she was 24 months old. 


   Along with the still photos and videos, they received a fairly alarming medical report.


   In one of the videos Denise is talking to Dr. Panova, the orphanage director, about Maria’s conditions. She asks Dr. Panova if Maria can stand.


   Dr. Panova answers, that yes, Maria can stand, albeit on shaky legs. Maria, however, in these videos appeared to be happiest standing at her walker.


   Instead of a sullen, sad little girl looking forlorn behind a walker, the Blevins saw a toughness in Maria — a little girl who had the strength to get out of her circumstances and the ability to do it. The Blevinses had found their fourth daughter. 


     The Blevinses would like me to make absolutely clear that when they received the video, they were sent a list of doctors names to have the video reviewed by.  BBAS requested that they sign a form to acknowledge that they received the advice to have the videos reviewed by a professional who was well versed in internationally adopted children.


     I must make absolutely clear to the reader that the Blevinses chose not to have Maria’s videos and medicals reviewed by any of the international medical specialists BBAS had listed on the form. They chose instead to have the videos and medical reviewed by their pediatrician.  


  To understand Maria and what challenges the Blevinses would face in the coming  year, I must go into some details about Maria’s medical condition. 


    The girl had had a rough beginning. After 14 months in an unspecified “bad” orphanage, she had been transferred to Buzovgrad in October 1999 to receive more specialized care for her conditions. 


    The information was all in Bulgarian. When they traveled they were unaware of their questions had been clearly conveyed about Maria’s beginnings.  They could not prove that Maria had been in any orphanage before Buzovgrad; it remains unknown whether this is true or not.


   Once transferred to Buzovgrad, the adjustment from one institution to another had been traumatic. She had been sent to Sofia for “testing” and upon her return to Buzovgrad, went “into her own world” and had even refused to eat. 


    Maria at two could not walk without a walker. She stood on her own with shaky legs. According to her medical report, she had “malabsorption” problems and perhaps some mild “disorders” of the central nervous system.


    In short, Maria’s long term out look was also unknown, but if she could be placed with a loving family with the resources to help her, she would have a chance at a normal life.


     The pediatrician felt Maria had a fighting chance of catching up physically after she had looked at this information.


    When they asked Denise Hubbard how long it would take to get Maria home, Denise went into her usual lying spiel about the timeline. 


   Dorothy told me “We were told by Denise that the adoption would take six months. She did not say six months from the time the documents were in Bulgaria.  Just six months.” Just as she had led us to believe.


    Except that by this point, Denise had already started enough people on the road to Bulgarian adoption (including us) that she knew it wasn’t taking six months. It had taken us 10 months from when our documents were entered into the Ministry of Health, not to mention almost a year from the first visit to pick our son up.


    By this time, BBAS had completed at least four adoptions in Bulgaria. None of them had gone that quickly.


    Denise also lied about the fact that the adoption would be “expedited” because of Maria’s challenges. They were not to receive a real, hard copy timeline until the end of January. Four months after their first trip to Bulgaria.


    Again, following the script of our adoption to a tee.


    Denise told them that Maria’s ethnic background was Bulgarian — the same lie she had told the Corrigans about their daughter. Yet from just looking at her picture, one could tell that she wasn’t “Bulgarian,” but rather of all or mostly Roma heritage.


    Why Denise continually lied about the children’s obvious ethnicity is puzzling.  She categorically stated that if Maria was Roma, it would have stated it on her medical report. 


     Dorothy was baffled.  They weren’t racists.  They didn’t judge the child on her skin tone.


However, when Maria came home 14 months later, the documents they received stated on the first line of her medical report that she was Roma.


     But Dorothy later wrote suggesting a theory: “After we came home and I started seeing that there were neuromuscular disorders associated with [the] Roma, and seeing that Maria was not walking or standing, I began to search on the Internet” for information.  These issues could have an effect on Maria and our Roma children for the rest of their natural lives. 


    Then question of financing the adoption arose. Denise told them the adoption’s total cost, owing to the fact that they would get reduced fees because Maria was special needs, would be $13,000. They were not told about the expenses associated with the homestudy, the documenting costs, the travel costs.


   To further sweeten the pot, Denise offered the family an “adoption grant” of $750 for the “Homestudy Fee” so the Blevines could get their homestudy released from their local agency.


    THEN Denise told them the $680 translation fee had already been paid and not to worry about repayment for the fees until it was time to pick up Maria.  The Blevinses considered this an adoption “loan” from Denise.  And this amount would accure interest as time went on.


    Again, let me reiterate, she told them not to worry about repaying these funds until the adoption was complete. 


   They accepted the offer. Don’t be fooled when the translation fee wasn’t repaid fast enough for Denise, she duly added interest.   However, interest was not added to the “homestudy grant”.


    The Blevinses wanted to include Maria in the homestudy once they had accepted her referral. But Denise correctly told them it would cause problems with the INS.  An identified orphan is a different process than an unidentified orphan — for one thing, she would have been issued an IR-4 visa upon arrival and would not have automatically received citizenship.


   (It’s not the first time Denise has advised a client to leave something potentially inconvenient out of a homestudy, either).


    In late August 2000, when Denise was gallivanting around Bulgaria with Rick Marco looking for more children to “place,” she stopped in Buzovgrad to meet with Dr. Panova. We want to say that Denise’s organization — ICCF had donated some computers to the orphanage in Buzovgrad to facilitate communications. 


   Dr. Panova, by all accounts, was a kindly and good doctor who longed to see Maria placed into a loving home where she could get the medical attention she needed.  She and Denise appeared to have had a good relationship; I have been told that Dr. Panova spoke English.


    At Dr. Panova’s insistence, Denise called the Blevinses late that night from her hotel room.  She wanted Denise to ask them if they would still be interested in adopting Maria because she felt that Maria was mentally retarded. Dr. Panova did not want the family to make their first trip without that important bit of information. 

   Denise told the Blevinses that Maria had her good days and bad days. She did not appear to be making progress physically or mentally (but by this time she was attempting to stand unaided). But most frighteningly, Maria tended to “blank out” and sometimes appeared “not all there mentally.”


   Most alarmingly, Denise told the Blevinses that Maria would be labeled as “mentally retarded.” She wanted to make absolutely sure that the Blevinses knew about how bad off Maria was on Dr. Panova’s behalf.


    The Blevinses, undeterred, didn’t buy it. They felt that the “blanking out” was one of Maria’s coping mechanisms from being moved around so much in two years. 


   They saw a bit of it in one of the videos, but felt that there was something in her that made her do this — the ability to separate herself from her surroundings.


   They were later to learn that Maria had a fantastic leyala by the name of Annie who loved and took care of her. This made all the difference in the world to this little girl.


    The Blevinses then arranged their first trip to Bulgaria. And it was the usual wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am trip that BBAS foisted upon its unknowing Bulgarian clients.


    When the Blevinses signed and notarized the BBAS contract on Sept. 1, 2000,   they became members of the “BBAS Family” for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.


   A few weeks later, as we ourselves were battling it out with BBAS over their last-minute fee requests, the Blevinses themselves went to Bulgaria