4.8.11from "the Bethlehem Patch"
Rescued from 'Living Hell,' Russian Boy Found Home in Bethlehem
Dateline NBC tells the tale of faith and perseverance of 'The Boy From Baby House 10.'
By Tara Zrinski
This Sunday, Dateline NBC will trace John Lahutsky's journey from Baby House 10, the Russian orphanage where he was placed after his alcoholic parents abandoned him and his two sisters Tanya and Olga, to his new life in Bethlehem Township with his adoptive mother Paula Lahutsky.
A story of courage beyond belief, John, formerly known as Vanya Pastukov, has survived to tell it because of the efforts of those in the Orthodox Church who adamantly campaigned for his extrication from his living hell and because of the Bethlehem woman who adopted him when he was 9 years old.
In September 1998, Paula Lahutsky answered an ad in her Sunday Church bulletin written by an adoptive couple returning from Russia who had come across a child with cerebral palsy in desperate need of adoption.
“The moment I read it, I just knew,” Lahutsky said. “He would have died in Russia.”
By October, she had initiated the first call to adopt Vanya through the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and by July of 1999, she had a court date to legally adopt Vanya from the Russian asylum where he was little more than a prisoner in his metal crib, drugged, neglected and labeled an “imbecile.”
Lahutsky said the process was guided by “a force much stronger than myself — God,” because there were so many obstacles she felt she could not overcome only to discover that a solution found her.
“I really had no plans to adopt,” Lahutsky said. “I had taken care of my father, who was a bilateral amputee, until he died in 1997.”
Because she had taken care of her father, Lahutsky’s house was already handicap accessible and, as a school psychologist, she felt prepared to handle any developmental delays that would accompany adopting a child with cerebral palsy.
While she took care of her father, Lahutsky also hosted a Russian seminary student, Alexei, and later his wife, Maria. The couple later became a valuable contact for housing and transportation for her in Russia when she arrived to claim John.
When she felt her anxiety over driving distances would prevent her from fulfilling immigration clearances in Philadelphia, she randomly met an individual who made the trip regularly, worked in the Immigration Department and was familiar with foreign adoptions.
The chance encounter happened because his wife ran over her mailbox with her car. Instead of a new mailbox, she got a ride to Philadelphia.
“If there was any doubt, it was gone after that,” Lahutsky said.
By the time Lahutsky got to meet John, his speech had deteriorated from lack of usage and social confinement. He knew very little English. To help him along, she made him a picture flip book of everything he would encounter in America — his new room, school, house, people, and more.
“He is truly an amazing kid,” Lahutsky said. “He learned English by Christmas. . . he was thrilled to go to school; he never went to school and started first grade at the age of 10.”
Now 21, John will graduate from Freedom High School in June. He plans to attend Northampton Community College to explore film making. He is also the author of The Boy From Baby House 10, the publication that sparked the Dateline interview, which he wrote with Alan Philips, a British Journalist who first brought the story to media attention when John was only six.
John never thinks of himself as disabled or handicapped. Even though he went through this dehumanizing experience “his glass is always half full,” his adoptive mother said. “He always sees the good in everyone.”
The Orthodox Church continues to play a key role in their lives. “He is strong in his faith,” Lahutsky said. John and his mother have attended services regularly at St. Paul’s Orthodox Church in Emmaus* for the past 10 years.
On Sunday, Paula will gather with friends, relatives and John for the Dateline NBC program featuring John’s triumphant story of overcoming the greatest odds to find fulfillment a world away from Russia, Baby House 10 or the metal bars of his crib.
(Read the original posting, with photo, here.)
(Editor's note: St. Paul's Orthodox Church in Emmaus is in the Antiochian Archdiocese.)