Dr. Rene McNall-Knapp remembers the moment her bond with her son started.
It was a Friday night, one of the first nights she spent in the hospital with him.
The night started with 3-year-old Jordan sleeping in his hospital bed, and McNall-Knapp in a guest bed in his room. She soon found a cuddling child sleeping next to her.
“He made it really easy to love him,” she said.
McNall-Knapp and her husband, Ryan, adopted Jordan, now 12, from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services foster care system after first serving as his foster parents. She and her husband have two other sons, Carter, 10, and Cooper, 14.
McNall-Knapp first met Jordan when he was 3. He was receiving chemotherapy at The Children's Hospital where she works as a pediatric cancer specialist.
Jordan had lost his eye to retinoblastoma, a rare type of eye cancer that usually develops in early childhood, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. By the time he saw an ophthalmologist for the eye cancer, it was too far gone, and they had to take out his eye.
McNall-Knapp learned while Jordan was a patient at the hospital that DHS was having trouble finding a foster home for him.
“Even the shelter wouldn't take him because he had cancer, and they thought it was too dangerous for him to be in the shelter, and no foster parents would agree to take him because he had cancer,” she said.
“The night before I saw him in the clinic, he and his social worker spent the night in the DHS office sleeping on the couches. I heard that, and I was like, ‘Can I do something about this? I'm not scared of cancer.'”
McNall-Knapp and her husband soon welcomed Jordan into their home. They promised him that he would either go home with his parents or be with their family for the rest of his life. They didn't want him bouncing from foster family to foster family.
Raising a child with cancer helped McNall-Knapp better understand what her patients and their families go through.
She began to realize how unpredictable life is when you have a child with cancer. A fever can quickly mean canceling all of your plans and heading to the emergency room.
You learn never to write anything on your calendar in pen.
“I remember the first time he woke up throwing up, and my first thought wasn't, ‘Oh he has the stomach flu,'” she said. “It was, ‘Oh, it's gone to his brain, and it's metastasized his brain, and he's throwing up because of that.'”
McNall-Knapp said she encourages people to look into becoming foster parents for children with medical needs.
“You don't have to be a doctor to do this,” she said. “You can take care of these kids and really make a huge difference in someone's life.”
More than 10,000 children are in the DHS foster care system, a number that changes daily. DHS is working to recruit about 2,000 new foster families by June, 500 more than the agency recruited last year. So far, the agency has recruited 640 new foster families.
Amy White, who oversees foster families and adoptions at DHS, said families who take in children facing medical issues serve an important role.
“When a child is undergoing very difficult medical circumstances and is in need of a foster home, we are so grateful for this special kind of family who is willing to provide the child with love and care and, in this case, provide a child with a permanent home,” said White, deputy director of the Bridge Resource program.