- Associated Press - Sunday, April 20, 2014

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) - His infectious smile lights up the room from atop a shelf in Todd and Tobey Thurston’s Campbell County home - the face of the couple’s daily prayer to one day become blessed with a son.

Present in spirit, the reality is Mahesh Patatam, the boy in the photo, lives thousands of miles away from the Thurstons, in a village in India. The husband and wife, determined to bridge the gap in distance and bring the 10-year-old to Virginia and raise him through adolescence, have launched an international adoption process that they say friends and supporters have rallied behind.

By the end of the year, they hope Mahesh will be living in their home on Winebarger Circle near Wards Road - which would make them one of only a couple hundred Virginia families likely to internationally adopt this year.

In 2013, the number of overseas adoptions in the state dropped to 254 - the lowest level they’ve been in 14 years.

The thought of helping Mahesh build a tree house and restore an old bike that will be his to ride around the neighborhood brings smiles to the couple’s faces like those of kids waiting to get on a ride at a carnival.

“I’m super excited to teach him everything and anything I can,” said Todd Thurston, 34. “I love to teach.”

The couple met Mahesh in the spring of 2011 during a missions trip to India through a local church, after years of trying to conceive a child.

The two met in Lynchburg in 2004 and were wed a year later. They longed to be parents, undergoing six years of infertility treatment and exhausting many options, Tobey Thurston recently said in an interview.

The overseas mission trip to help add a second floor to the school Mahesh lives in was a chance to get away, she said. Meeting him among a group of children, she said they were drawn to his happy demeanor that shone through despite his harsh living conditions.

“He kind of stood out to me,” said Tobey, 40, referring to him as her “buddy.”

His parents were poor, his father had died and he was the youngest of three children and suffering tuberculosis, which crippled his left arm and left him an outcast in the eyes of his peers, the couple said. Due to the cost of medicine and the family’s poverty, his mother decided to give him up to the school, Tobey said.

During a following 10-day trip to India in 2013, Tobey said she had the privilege of spending much one-on-one time with him during a period when she and Todd were considering adoption. And the idea clicked in her head: “Why don’t we adopt Mahesh?”

They prayed about it and realized there was a “world of difference” in raising a boy nearing teenage years as opposed to a newborn child.

Brooke Patel, a Lynchburg attorney helping the couple with the adoption, said it is the first international case she has worked and a rarity since the parents are seeking out a specific child.

“That is what is making their case complex,” she said. “Usually the family or parents are matched with an adoptive child.”

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