For Glenwood couple, where there’s a Will there’s a way
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – At 7 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, while her husband, John, was in Mexico on a fishing trip, Patti Braceland-Sikora took a call that changed their lives.
The adoption agency had a 7-month-old baby ready for the Sikoras to meet.
He was an orphaned boy named Xi WenHao, from Kunming City, in the Province of Yunnan, China.
He needed a loving home. He needed unconditional love. He needed caring parents.
And with a cleft lip and palate, the baby boy also needed specific medical attention.
That’s not always an easy find in the world of international adoption.
April 15, 2008, might have been a normal tax deadline day for John and Patti Sikora.
Then the call came into the Sikora home.
“John was in a very remote area of Mexico, reachable only when the generators are on which was a few hours of the day,” Patti said.
Time was of the essence.
“We had only 48 hours to say yes or no,” she said.
Two days to decide if Xi WenHao, abandoned at three days old at a children’s hospital in Kunming City with potentially fatal pneumonia, would become a member of the Sikora family.
“How could you say ‘no’ one might ask; but when choosing to take on the responsibility of a child with an issue like this, I needed John to see the pictures and feel comfortable with it,” Patti said. “It was a whirlwind wondering how I could make this happen but when I sat down and looked at the information that the agency e-mailed to me about WenHao, I saw his birth date and knew this was our son.”
Aug. 21 is not only WenHao’s birthday, it is also the date Patti’s brother Billy Braceland died after complications from a liver transplant in 1995.
“As this date nears every year, it always brings a bit of anxiety – even now, 14 years later,” she said. “For whatever reason, I am being flooded with thoughts and memories of Billy, my brother, and Willy, my son, as August 21 nears.”
In a letter to family and friends, Patti shared the delicate process of how the boy they now call Willy came to be the light of the couple’s lives.
“We found the way to make it all work out with the three of us being in three different countries when our paths finally crossed,” she wrote.
And so life with Willy began.
A little more than a year later, John Sikora chases Willy – short for John William Sikora – around the Glenwood Downtown Market. The toddler, born Xi WenHao, giggles as he hurriedly makes his way up and down the sidewalk lined with fresh produce stands and people munching on cobs of grilled corn.
Patti beams with pride, quick to share the story of her young son.
“He was in surgery for five hours,” she recalls. “He had multiple surgeries all at once.”
At nearly 2, Willy is an inspiration.
“People are starting to know him around town,” Patti says. “I wanted everyone to get to know him the way he was – it was actually difficult to go through the surgeries. I loved his smile just the way it was.”
Once a dental hygienist, Patti now specializes in orofacial myology, the study of improving poor tongue, lip and mouth muscle tone caused by tongue-thrusting; thumb-, finger- and pacifier-sucking; cheek and nail biting; and tooth-grinding and -clenching. Her Glenwood Springs practice, Western Slope Orofacial Myology, helps kids, and adults, with cleft lips and palates, thumb sucking, TMJ and speech disorders.
“I feel like the luckiest person in the world to get to do what I do,” she says. “I get to help kids, and adults, too.”
As a speech specialist, Patti understands the magnitude of compassion. The clients she treats – both children and adults – are often on the hurtful side of childhood teasing or public staring.
Adopting Willy put it all in perspective.
“We have had the opportunity to talk to a couple classes about tolerance and acceptance which has been a great experience,” she says.
Patti and Willy visited a kindergarten class before and after surgery.
“That was neat for the kids, ” she says. “With Willy being obviously not Caucasian and added to that he has a stark physical deformity, he was able to make an impression on the kids.”
The changes Willy has undergone are dramatic, too. Pre-surgery, Willy’s cleft lips and palate were severe. She is blessed with professionals in her field who are helping Willy on the road to recovery.
“I have found a wonderful team of doctors – an actual cleft specialist new to the area in Grand Junction – and am trying to put some sort of support team together here in the valley, an orthodontist, pediatricians, speech therapist etc., to work together with the surgical team in Grand Junction so that we can help cleft kids here in the valley without them having to go to Grand Junction or Denver for all of their care.”
Recovering well after surgery, Willy will turn 2 on Aug. 21.
And the Sikoras will be thinking about Billy and his new legacy.
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