Spotlight: A tale of adoption and the bond of sisterhood
Clicking on her e-mail inbox button forever changed Sue Kuhnke's life.
"I read an e-mail about an 11-year-old girl who was adopted from an orphanage in Russia by a family in Holland, Michigan," says Kuhnke, a financial specialist at the School of Nursing. Little did she know this note received two years ago would lead to a new addition to her family.
This summer as Kuhnke celebrated 22 years working at the University, she also shared a second anniversary with her adopted 17-year-old daughter, Nicole.
The journey to this adoption was long, and complicated. After a family Kuhnke knew arrived in Russia to visit their adopted daughter, they discovered she had an older sister, age 15, who was also living at the orphanage. After returning to Michigan the family sent a message about the sister to various e-mail group lists, and Kuhnke received it. The family hoped someone near the city of Holland would adopt the 15-year-old girl so that the sisters could be together.
"The story preyed on my mind for several months," Kuhnke says. "I have two sisters and two grown daughters. I know the special bond of sisterhood."
After sharing the story with her family, Kuhnke started the process to adopt Nicole, the older sister mentioned in the e-mail. "I contacted the adoption agency and asked them to ask the girl if she wanted to be adopted and come to America," Kuhnke says.
In October 2005 the agency told Kuhnke that Nicole was eager to be adopted and Kuhnke immediately traveled to Russia to visit her. Despite some complications with the Russian and American governments, Kuhnke persevered. She returned to Michigan with Nicole in April 2006.
"Just keep hanging in, give them what they want, nag your Congressman and be prepared for everything to go wrong," Kuhnke advises, for those interested in adoption. "For me, the rewards were well worth the grief."
In Michigan, Nicole was able to reconnect with her younger sister. She also has a friend who was adopted from Russia and now lives within biking distance of their Milan, Mich. home. Nicole also joined a varsity swim team and learned English.
"I'm so proud of her," Kuhnke says. "And I thank God I didn't have to learn Russian."
Only recently, Nicole has begun to share details about her previous life, Kuhnke says. "We share mother-daughter moments often. We still butt heads occasionally.
"Nicole is an extremely good kid," Kuhnke says, adding that her daughter has a great sense of humor accompanied by an easy smile. "I laugh until I cry several times a week."
Ultimately Kuhnke finds delight in the fact that Nicole has accepted her entire extended family as her own. Her coworkers also have noticed and admired this reflection of Kuhnke's humanity. "Sue is a highly valued staff member and a very special person. Reaching out to Nicole embodies her intellect, sensitivity and caring nature," says Dr. Barbara Therrien, associate professor of nursing in the School of Nursing.
Kuhnke is quick to boast about her coworkers and supervisors. "We have an outstanding team," she says. "What keeps me working here is the people I work with."