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New life for Emma: Guthrie family sees hope, blessings with addition of preschooler

Emma has Jacobsen syndrome, a disorder with low life expectancy. But her outlook is bright, if you ask Travis and Tonya Ratcliff, the Guthrie couple who adopted her in January.
by Carla Hinton Modified: April 20, 2014 at 9:00 am •  Published: April 20, 2014

Three-year-old Emma Ratcliff has found new life as the heartbeat of her “forever family.”

Emma has Jacobsen syndrome, a disorder with low life expectancy. But her outlook is bright, if you ask Travis and Tonya Ratcliff, the couple who adopted her in January.

This Easter, the family is learning to see each sunrise as the dawn of a new day with Emma.

They don’t focus on how long she has to live. They focus on the fact that she lives.

“She is teaching us that there are moments in life that you need to savor — that there is beauty all around us,” Tonya Ratcliff said.

“If you live each day like it’s your last day, what are we going to do differently?”

Instant connection

Ten days.

That’s how long the Ratcliffs spent with Emma before determining that they wanted to make her the youngest sister of their other six children.

Tonya and Travis Ratcliff’s family includes their biological daughter, Elliott, 8, plus their adopted children: Evan, 9; Coy, 6; J.T., 6; Reese, 4; and Ellis, 3.

Tonya Ratcliff said Emma was in foster care with another family when the Ratcliffs were asked to keep her for 10 days so her foster parents could take a trip.

Tonya Ratcliff, executive director of the Peppers Ranch foster care community, 3200 S Western, said she and her husband had just made the decision to adopt a sixth child. She said they knew when they met Emma that she would eventually join their family.

“Every child deserves a family and not just any family — a good family, a loving family,” Tonya Ratcliff said.

That resolve didn’t change when Dr. Richard Stanford, an Oklahoma City pediatrician, diagnosed Emma with Jacobsen syndrome while she was in the Ratcliffs’ care. Tonya Ratcliff said Jacobsen syndrome is very rare, occurring in only one in 100,000 newborns. She said the syndrome occurs when genetic material is missing from chromosome 11.

She said they knew Emma had been diagnosed with failure to thrive, which meant among other things that she had trouble gaining and retaining a healthy weight for her age. She said the new diagnosis, however, was daunting, particularly for Emma’s foster parents, who received the news when they arrived back in town.

Tonya Ratcliff said they were a “fabulous couple” but they didn’t think they could care for Emma with her new diagnosis.

“They lived in a small town with limited therapy opportunities, few advance care doctors and they had an hour and a half drive to Children’s Hospital. They just knew they couldn’t provide Emma with what she needed,” Tonya Ratcliff said.

Besides that, Tonya Ratcliff said both she and Emma’s foster mother felt that the Lord had chosen Emma to be a part of the Ratcliff family — even with the seemingly indirect route He took to connect them.

‘Perfect fit’

Travis Ratcliff said Emma is the perfect fit for their family.

And he and his wife said they are well along their journey into foster care and adoption, which they started when they were members of Quail Springs Church of Christ.

Tonya Ratcliff said their pastor at the time, the Rev. Mark Henderson, preached about the faith community’s responsibility to love and care for orphans and encouraged his congregation to consider foster care and adoption. She recalled that Henderson and his wife, Sharon, adopted two boys from Rwanda in 2007.

“He (Henderson) said, ‘You can’t save all of them, but you can save the ones that God puts in your path,’” she said. “We looked at each other and said, ‘This is what we’re supposed to do’ and thank God we did.”

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by Carla Hinton
Religion Editor
Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide...
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