The waiting game
The waiting game

ALEX CULLEN: George Dennehy is like any other teenager. He likes to drive - hands-free of course - and loves his music loud.

GEORGE: Better.

ALEX: And you just change the channel and...

GEORGE: Yeah, just real quick.

ALEX: There's nothing ordinary about how George drives. The only modification to his car is an extra long indicator.

GEORGE: It just makes it easier for me to hit the signals.

ALEX: Ah, that's the...OK. And do you get some crazy looks?

GEORGE: When I first started driving, the police got a lot of calls and people are like calling them and they're like "Hey, there's this kid driving with his feet! "I think he's drinking, you should look into this case" and then they're like, "Oh, no, that's just George."

ALEX: I want to ask you how you felt growing up without arms.

GEORGE: You know, it's weird. You're a kid and you want to fit in but being me, you can't really fit in. You're forced to stand out.

ALEX: And stand out George did, right from his birth in Romania. Born without arms for no known medical reason, his poverty-stricken parents couldn't provide for him
so gave him to an orphanage.

GEORGE: In the orphanage I wasn't taken care of at all because in Romania, having a disability is viewed as a curse. They kind of just let me be and gave me food here and there, I guess. When I was one years old, I weighed nine pounds and, ah, I was just... The hospital report said I was going to die very soon.

ALEX: A photo of George was published in an American adoption agency newsletter.

MIKE DENNEHY: There was a little tiny black-and-white picture of George. "Born in Romania with no arms. Desperately needs a loving home."

ALEX: Mike Dennehy, an Apple software designer, and his wife, Sharon, had three kids of their own. They wanted to share their success and make a difference in someone else's life.

MIKE: The last line of George's medical report says "This boy will soon die."

ALEX: Mike and Sharon flew to the orphanage in Romania.

MIKE: We wanted to look at his shoulders when we first met him and Sharon started to take his sweater off so we could actually see his body and the nurses went, like, "No, don't do that" and kind of coached us not to look at him. It was hard. That's a bad start to get in life. You should tell them about his little smile.

ALEX: I want to hear about the smile.

SHARON: OK, the first time we met him in the orphanage he was, as Mike said, really sickly and I held him and smiled at him and talked to him and he just had this big smile come across his face and it was like, there's life in there somewhere and it encouraged me, that there's potential here to help this boy.

ALEX: They decided to adopt George. In America, he would begin to find and put his faith in his feet.

MIKE: He had to learn to walk. When he made a mistake - wham! - he'd hit his head on the cement. So we had to get him helmets to protect him because a guy could only take so many whacks on the head.

ALEX: He proved to be capable of tasks, which looked impossible.

SHARON: We put a bottle in front of him, he'd pick it up with his feet, hold it and feed himself.

ALEX: Basketball.....even skateboarding. There was nothing he wouldn't try, very little he couldn't do. But after adopting, George, Mike and Sharon didn't stop. They adopted James from India, also born without arms.

MIKE: It's probably a little like bungee jumping. The first one is terrifying, the second one is scary, the third one, you're like, "What am I doing now?"

ALEX: The third was Caris from China. Next stop - Ethiopia - where they planned to adopt one child but ended up with three, all sisters - Tamer, Kali and Andy.

SHARON: It's just so rewarding, you just want to keep going, yeah.

ALEX: And keep going, they did - Siobhan and Tom from America. But the latest and loudest addition is 7-year-old Hope. Born in Thailand without arms or legs. Hope is Mike and Sharon's 12th child, the ninth to be adopted.

HOPE: I'll be right back, bye!

(LAUGHS)

SHARON: First thing she says when she meets people is "I have a mum and dad and I have lots of brothers and sisters!" So she's really excited about it.

HOPE: Hey guys! Hey! Hello, hello, hello. Hello.

ALEX: Hope goes to school with her brothers and sisters. She gets around in a wheelchair. And wherever she goes, she's a handful but no-one seems to mind. Like George, Hope has found a way
to do most things - even pat the dog. Organised chaos?

SHARON: Exactly, yeah.

MIKE: That's a good term.

SHARON: That's about what it is, yeah. Somehow it works.

MIKE: We always tell 'em, "Pretend you're on an island and you have to figure it out yourself and come to us as the last..." 'Cause if they got, if 12 of them got in the mode of needing something and just asking us for it, we'd be dead. That's how we survive, I think. But it makes them independent.

GEORGE: Using those two...and then I'm only using this toe.

ALEX: Your big toe?

GEORGE: Yep, to get these three strings. And then I'm using the pinkie toe and the big toe together on the B minor.

ALEX: That's just...oh my god, wow. Awesome, awesome. Low five! Alright. But George could not have imagined where his incredible talent would take him. After performing at a local fair in June, George put this video online.

GEORGE: (SINGS) Yeah, you bleed just to know you're alive And I don't want the world to see me...

ALEX: Thousands watched, including The Goo Goo Dolls, the band that wrote the song. Next thing George knew...he was the rock star, stealing the show.

MIKE: And I remember John from the Goo Goo Dolls screams out to all 7,000 people, you know, "Let's give it up for George!" Everybody deserves a shot, watch what they can do.

ALEX: And that's what you say to people considering adoption?

MIKE: I do. How many times in your life do you get a chance to save someone else's life?

ALEX: But under Australia's strict adoption laws, this amazing family would, in all likelihood, never have happened. This is why Australia is one of the toughest places in the world to adopt a child - more than 1,000 pages of adoption red tape. You see, every state and territory has its own laws - Victoria, New South Wales. So many rules and so many regulations that just looking at these,
it's no wonder Australian couples feel this system is failing them.

PETER: I had friends that had foster children for probably nine years or something and they were trying to adopt from probably year two, so it was years and years just went by.

ALEX: Pete Gunning is Australian. His wife, Leila, American. When they married, they settled in Sydney where they planned to stay and have children.

PETER: Some people, it's, you know, they can clock it down to, "Hey, which month do we want to get pregnant?" but we realised pretty quickly that that wasn't the case for us.

ALEX: They couldn't afford IVF and adoption in Australia could cost as much as $50,000. Even more distressing was the wait - seven years is considered normal.
For most, that's way too long.

LEILA: If we're gonna do adoption, we gotta get somewhere where we can do it.

ALEX: So Pete and Leila left Australia and moved to the United States. They've been here 11 months. They've been approved, the nursery is ready and their baby could come any day. Leila, what's the thing you look forward to the most about having your own child?

LEILA: Um, gosh...

PETER: No-one's been brave enough to ask that question.

LEILA: I know. What is it? I mean, there's so many little things like just having someone call me mum - I just can't even really fathom it. But I know when it happens, it's going to feel really wonderful.

ALEX: This is Oscar and this is Ava. Dad is Hugh Jackman and mum is Deborra-Lee Furness. They wanted to adopted in Australia but opted for the US where the system is simpler and faster —
a choice that saddens Deborra-Lee. How would you describe the state of adoption laws in Australia right now?

DEBORRA-LEE: Not good. We are not doing a good job. In fact, we have the lowest numbers in the world of numbers of babies being adopted.

ALEX: How different is the system in the US?

DEBORRA-LEE: Well, I went through the US system and we jumped through the same hoops and it was facilitatedwithin a year.

ALEX: And had you stayed in Australia to adopt...?

DEBORRA-LEE: I might still be waiting.

ALEX: You would be. There's every chance you would be.

DEBORRA-LEE: Exactly.

ALEX: Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world but our adoption rate, one of the poorest. While Australian couples are tied up in red tape, in other parts of the world, better adoption systems are creating new families and changing lives. None more so than George Dennehy.
Now 18, George hadn't seen his Romanian mum since she gave him up for adoption just after his birth. Recently, he made a surprise return. He had no idea what would happen. A Romanian television crew recorded the reunion. George's unexpected life is really just getting under way. Now he has a girlfriend, Victoria.

GEORGE: It's really reassuring for me to know that she cares about me and loves me, just the same. She does not care at all that I don't have arms and she just knows me for me and not for what I don't have or whatever. So that speaks a lot to me.'Cause, you know...

ALEX: She's a special girl, huh?

GEORGE: Yeah. She's really great.

MIKE: What an adventure, huh? You're here. Awesome. You are awesome.

GEORGE: I was adopted and there were two options for me - either dead or where I am now and it's because of adoption is where I am now.

ALEX: In Australia, it is so difficult to adopt. It takes a long time and it costs a lot of money. What do you think of that?

SHARON: Hopefully stories like this will make people work towards making that easier for people because it makes such a difference.

MIKE: When you give them a family, you're actually giving them a place they belong forever. And you will shape their whole future so any barriers that can be removed to make that happen faster, especially when you're the child, right? Time is everything.


END