- Associated Press - Saturday, May 21, 2016

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho (AP) - Jana Tritto walked downstairs to find her daughter, Heather, having a seizure.

“She’s seizing again,” one of Heather’s care providers said, while adjusting the pillows to cover the railings on Heather’s bed.

Tritto walked over and propped Heather on her side so anything in her mouth would fall out instead of choke her.

When Heather came to, her mom was standing over her with a big smile on her face.

“There she is! Are you feeling better now?” Tritto asked.

Tritto has 20 children. She adopted most of them, including Heather. Eight have grown up and are out of the house, eight still live with her, and four have died.

Tritto was in her mid-20s when she took her two kids to California. She was seeking the peace, love and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. She didn’t find that, but she did find a man and fell in love with him.

They decided California wasn’t for them so they moved to Washington. With four kids between the two of them and no money, they found a church they liked. One sermon really hit home with Tritto. It sent her a message. She said it was about not just talking the talk, but walking the walk.

That afternoon when they got home, she and her husband were changing clothes to go bring the hay in from the fields. She asked him how he felt about adoption. Tritto wanted to complete their circle. He had two kids, she had two kids, and she wanted them to have a child together.

“When I called health and welfare, the guy said ‘Well, if you took a handicapped kid I could get you one tomorrow.’ Well we were already doing that,” Tritto said as she motioned toward her biological daughter, Dana, who has special needs. “We knew how to do it, so we started the process. It took a year.”

Emily was 8 years old when Tritto brought her home. Tritto said she was severely disabled, but a very funny girl.

“It went from there. One after another after another. There’s a million stories and a million miracles,” Tritto said. “We found all these children that no one wanted. It was our calling. It was what we were supposed to do.”

Emily died due to health complications when she was 29. She was the fourth of Tritto’s kids to die.

In Tritto’s experience, adopting children with disabilities was quicker than adopting totally healthy kids.

According to adopt.org, “the process to adopt a child with special needs can often proceed quickly and be completed within a few months.” The site says it can take two to seven years to adopt a healthy infant.

The adoption process is long and involved. There are home studies, trainings and home stays.

According to Donna Euler, the adoption program director at Idaho Youth Ranch, there are more people seeking to adopt newborns than there are newborns for adoption. But, there are thousands of kids across the nation in foster care waiting for a permanent home.

“By virtue of what they’ve gone through in their biological home, kids in foster care are special needs just from trauma,” Euler said.

As an incentive for people to adopt children with special needs, the state offers a monthly stipend and Medicaid services to help offset costs for the adopting family.

“Adoption is complicated,” Euler said. “We need families to step up and offer permanency.”

Euler encourages people with questions about adoption to call Idaho Youth Ranch. There is a lot of information out there on the topic and it can be hard to sort through it all.

For more information go to idahoyouthranchadoptons.org or call (208)-667-1898.

In 1984, Tritto and her husband moved their 17 children to Post Falls.

“We were moving the Jews across Egypt. It took us six months to move,” Tritto said.

Tritto went to nursing school and then to study as a physician’s assistant. She’s glad she did because it has helped her take care of her own family.

Sometime between then and when she moved into her home near Rathdrum in 2000, Tritto and her husband split up, but she doesn’t like to talk about that.

In 2000, Tritto met a tall, handsome cowboy. Jim was sweet, caring and really funny. They got married and together, continued to take care of Tritto’s kids.

“He was quite a man,” Tritto said. “He walked into this family and became dad. I don’t see many men doing that.”

The family’s 10-acre property near Rathdrum supports stables and a few horses, a camper, Tritto’s woodworking shed and the house.

Tritto’s long, red house stands alone on the property with a nice yard in front. Tritto has turned the garage into an open room with big windows where everyone can play, read or just hang out.

She had a ramp built from the bottom floor to the sunroom. That way, Heather could hang out with her siblings and socialize instead of staying in her bed in her room.

Tritto wakes up at 3:30 or 4 every morning. That’s her private time. At 5:30 a.m. caregivers come over and start waking everybody up.

Tritto makes coffee and breakfast and helps everyone take their medication. After breakfast, everybody cleans up. They brush their teeth, get dressed, strip their beds. By 8, everyone is doing their chores and whatever they need to do.

“It doesn’t stop,” Tritto said. “You are a parent for their life, your life and beyond. To put the disability into the background and to see the person, I think that’s really important; that they’re more normal than not.”

After lunch, everyone has some free time.

Kristina likes to play with toys that make sounds or play songs. Richard enjoys reading and Tom likes exploring. Matthew likes playing with his baseball.

Anna enjoys sitting in the shade. She can’t talk, so she signs. Tritto can mostly understand what she is saying. She has picked up a little sign language here or there.

Heather has to be turned over every half-hour so she doesn’t get bed sores.

Dana really likes to watch game shows. Her favorites are “The Price is Right” and “Family Feud.” During free time, Dana will often join her mom in the workshop. She watches her game shows while Tritto makes tables and chairs out of old pallets to sell or for gifts.

Dana turns 50 next year and can’t wait. She tries to get her mom to let her have coffee for the big occasion, but she’s not allowed to because it would cause complications with her seizure medication.

Richard is usually Tritto’s helping hand because he is strong, but at this time, he has a broken collarbone, so he’s “off the list” as Tritto puts it.

“How did you break your bone?” Tritto asked him.

Richard looked around. Dana chirped up.

“No, I’m asking you,” Tritto said to Richard. “You tell me how you broke your bone.”

“Richard fall, Richard’s bed.”

“He fell out of bed,” Tritto laughed.

Richard smiled and laughed, too.

“You see the world differently through their eyes,” Tritto said. “You really do, and that’s what makes all the difference to me. They help keep things simple and keep priorities straight.”

Tritto said that many people have big dreams to travel, but going to the park with a sack lunch is just as great for her family.

On occasion, the team will bring the camper next to the fire ring and they will camp out in the yard. They roast marshmallows and eat s’mores. If need be, there is a shower and bed close by.

Many of Tritto’s children are still in contact with their biological families. Tritto likes that because it adds a special element to birthdays and Christmas.

“We have become extended families for the kids,” Tritto said. “It’s nice. It completes the circle.”

Tritto is very thankful to have the support and help that she does. There are seven different people, full-time and part-time, that come to the house to help care for everyone.

They help with laundry and cooking and they play with the kids. They help wake everyone up and put them to bed. They take care of everyone when Tritto has to go to the store or wants a little time for herself. They are like her kids’ other mothers, Tritto said.

“Care providers come in and help normalize their lives. I wouldn’t have a life without them,” she said. “They help feed and bathe and clean and wipe butts and those sorts of things. It’s a very satisfying but thankless job.”

Some of the caregivers have been with Tritto and her family for 15 years. Angela Matthews is the newest member of the family.

“At the nursing home you bring people their food then go on your lunch break. Here we eat with them,” Matthews said. “It’s like we’re part of the family. I like it a lot.”

Tritto gives a lot of credit to her friends and family for helping make her kids’ lives as good as they are and for helping her through the hard times.

She also gives a lot of credit to God.

“This was something God handed us,” she said. “This wasn’t done in my own strength. There’s no way in all these years, that, without faith, I could do this.”

Tritto likes going to church, but rarely has the opportunity. She said being at her home, on her property with her children, is like being in church. She doesn’t need a building, she said, but buildings are nice.

Tritto told a story about when Stacy was getting ready to have her third open-heart surgery.

“She was outside with her ear phones in, singing along and nobody else could hear the music. She comes in and says ‘Mom, can I talk to you?’ She said ‘I was outside listening to my worship and prayer songs, and I prayed and I said Lord, I’m having open-heart surgery Nov. 1 and I pray that you heal my heart and he said he would.’”

“And he did,” Tritto said. “Their prayers are answered.”

Last November Tritto woke up to find her husband, Jim, had died from a heart attack.

It hit everyone hard. Stacy’s favorite memory of her dad was when she would listen to her Walkman and he would come sweep her off her feet and dance with her around the room.

Jim used to put on big Fourth of July barbecues and do a lot of yard work.

“He was a good man. We’re lost without him,” Tritto said. “The kids really have had a hard time, so have I.”

With Jim gone, Tritto hasn’t had enough time to keep up with the garden or to set up the above-ground pool. The lawnmower broke so she can’t cut the grass until it gets fixed. She just feels stressed and can’t do everything that she wants to get done.

Her church, Real Life Ministries, has sent her cards over the past few months, checking in to see if she needs anything. Her friends have stepped in and helped out. For that she is so grateful.

“Losses hurt, but even then you get through,” she said. “We just do what we do and enjoy it. I mean, there are moments that aren’t enjoyable, let’s face it, but for the most part it is.”

___

Information from: Coeur d’Alene Press, https://www.cdapress.com

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