PLAINFIELD, Ind. — When Deanna French brought a tiny baby home from Chechnya, she had no idea the impact she would have on her life. The baby had barely survived her birth and was severely underweight at 11 months.
Now, 10-year-old Madina French is a thriving young lady living in this Indianapolis suburb, with Olympic aspirations and a desperate desire to become an American citizen.
"She was a premature baby that weighed 1.1 pounds," Deanna said. "She's a miracle baby."
Little Madina fought for her life but needed a lot of medical care.
Madina was born without most of her face. She has had 22 surgeries to construct a face and is still in need of more medical procedures. She will soon have surgery to construct a hard pallet.
Deanna was able to legally adopt Madina, but her country will not allow her to become an American citizen.
"And since she is not an American citizen, I cannot get any kind of help," Deanna said. "She doesn't have a Social Security number so I can't apply for assistance for her medical care. She is considered an alien in the U.S. even though she has been here since she was 11 months old."
Deanna said she has spoken to attorneys about her daughter's citizenship, but there has not been any progress.
Without a Social Security number, Madina is also unable to get medical insurance. She said leans on her church family at Plainfield Christian Church for help with Madina's care.
"My daughter has totally changed my entire life for good," she said. "But we’ve had to overcome lots of hurdles."
When Madina came to the United States at 10 and a half months old, she only weighed 10.5 pounds.
"She was wearing 0-3 month clothes," she said. "She didn’t walk until she was almost 3 years old. Her muscles were flaccid and she needed more muscle control."
A few years ago, one of Madina's doctors said gymnastics would help her muscle development and make her stronger. She's now enrolled at Hoosier Gymnastics in Plainfield, Ind., and she is on the gym's competition team with other girls in junior high and high school.
"She's pretty amazing," Deanna said. "I am so very proud of her."
Madina has dreams of representing the United States in the Olympics.
"I don’t know if she can make it or not, but her coaches said she has the inner drive. Anything is possible," Deanna said.
Madina recently won a writing competition through her local newspaper, the Hendricks County Flyer. Her winning entry started, "My mom is very special because she adopted me. She had to travel a long way all by herself and that had to be scary … I have had a lot of operations and my mom never left my side."
Her letter went on to say, "She sits night after night at gymnastics practice and rarely complains. She's my biggest cheerleader … she always finds time for me after a very hard day of work."
And even though gymnastics is her passion, Madina said, "What I want more than anything is to be an American citizen."
Brenda L. Holmes is a reporter for The Hendricks County Flyer in Avon, Ind.