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Catching up with JiaJia: CNN reunites with adopted orphan from China
Updated 0928 GMT (1728 HKT) March 10, 2017
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When Brian and Jeri Wilson brought home their 10-year-old adopted son Jason, formerly known as JiaJia, for the first time last year, the couple quickly realized they needed to move.
"Our old house had stairs everywhere," says Brian. "For the first four months, Jason had to rely on us for everything. We had to carry him everywhere."
Jason, who chose his name when he became a US citizen, has no use of his legs, the result of botched spina bifida surgery as an infant in China.
The Wilsons, both 51, knew they couldn't carry Jason for much longer. He's already gained 15 pounds and grown nearly four inches since they adopted him from a Beijing children's home last January.
"I think (carrying Jason) really helped us build a relationship with him," Brian says -- choosing to look at the bright side of each challenge the family faces.
There have been several challenges over the last year.
The family sold their house in the small Kansas City suburb of Grain Valley, Missouri. They used the money to begin building a new home just down the street. Each room was designed with Jason's needs in mind. The entire house is supposed to be wheelchair accessible. The builder even named the floor plan "The Jason." But an expensive construction snag has stopped work indefinitely.
Jason's old home
Alenah's Home is a facility on the outskirts of Beijing that helps abandoned disabled children get medical care and rehab services that they otherwise wouldn't have access to.
It was here where CNN first met Jiajia -- now Jason Wilson -- in the summer of 2015. Jason was nine years old, the eldest child at Alenah's Home. He couldn't walk and pushed himself around belly down on a skate board.
He was one of more than 70 abandoned children
Since Jason left last winter, 15 other orphans have arrived in Alenah's home, which is run by faith-based US non-profit Children's Hope. Dian Dian, who suffers from cerebral palsy, has been there since June.
She gets physical therapy once a week. She's barely able to sit up straight and struggles to pull on her socks. Dian Dian hopes she'll be adopted soon.
When asked where she'd like to go after she meets her new parents, her face lit up with a big smile.
"America," she said with excitement. It's a dream shared by the other children at Alenah's home -- that hopefully one day, like Jason, their story will have a happy ending too.
From CNN's Serena Dong in Beijing.
The family is renting a modest duplex around the corner as they try to come up with a new plan.
"We're not afraid of a challenge," Jeri says.
The housing snafu has complicated their lives. But the way the Wilsons see it, Jason has already dealt with far more.
He was just three months old when his birth parents abandoned him.
Jason spent most of his formative years in a small medical foster home in Beijing, where he was doted on by volunteers but lacked the one thing every child needs -- a family.
A Chinese family promised to adopt Jason -- and even brought him home for a short time. But they quickly backed out, overwhelmed by the seemingly endless paperwork and daunting burden of caring for a child who may be forever confined to a wheelchair.
At first, Jason didn't believe the Wilsons would keep him permanently. When I asked him what was different now he's been adopted, he responded: "Having love, I think."
The Wilsons want to keep the family in the same neighborhood so Jason can remain at Sni-A-Bar Elementary, where he's a fourth grader.
"He's had so much struggle in life. So much change already. We don't want to throw another situation into it," Jeri says.
The small public school seems a perfect fit for Jason. He's making friends and speaking English -- though not yet at the level of his classmates.
Jason enjoys singing and soaks up US culture. It's easy to forget he grew up 6,600 miles away.
Kendra Carpenter was Jason's 3rd grade teacher last year. The Wilsons credit her with helping integrate their son into his new classroom surroundings.
When I spoke to Jason, he mainly communicated in short sentences and facial expressions -- but Carpenter says he's outgoing in class.
"He was a little shy at first, but it didn't last long," Carpenter says. "Within a couple of weeks, he became the darling of the school."
Jason is popular with his teachers and classmates. They high-five each other in the hallways and outside during recess.
Jason's physical disability doesn't stop him from playing soccer or football with his classmates. Seeing him out on the field is remarkable. He prefers goalie, because he uses his wheelchair to his advantage -- to block the ball.
Jason seems to be the most popular kid at recess, with classmates enthusiastically cheering him on.
"I think a huge part of it is just the way (Jason) approaches life and he doesn't see it as a life with challenges," Carpenter says. "I think that's really magnetic to people and really attractive to them."
Jason's English language teacher Adriana DeMonbrun says he chooses not to speak Chinese anymore, despite encouragement from teachers and his parents to embrace his heritage.
"He never wants to talk about China," she says. "If I ask him to teach me how to say 'thank you' in Chinese, he'll say 'I don't know. I don't remember'."
DeMonbrun says Jason's favorite topic of discussion is his family.
"It's everything to him. He talks about his sisters all the time. He talks about his Dad and they play football," she says. "He makes us happy and he completes our family here."
'Are you crazy?'
The Wilsons already had three grown daughters and never even considered adoption.
But a conversation with another family at their church changed everything.
Michael and Amy Mangels told the Wilsons about a Chinese orphan they were adopting named Jeremiah -- who happened to be Jason's best friend at the foster home.
Adoptive parents often don't meet their children until the actual adoption. They get to know each other via Skype, photos, and notes.
"When we were Skyping with Jeremiah, Jason would always come into the shot with him. And Jason talked more than Jeremiah did. So we developed a friendship," Amy remembers.
"It was a heavy burden to know his story, and know of him and about him, and not be able to do anything. So we decided to talk to Brian and Jeri (about adoption)," Michael says
"Are you crazy,'" Jeri recalls saying with a laugh. "I've got three adult girls."
Brian had a similar response. But something about Jason's story touched them.
"He was my son. I could feel in my heart he was my son," Jeri says.
After months of prayer, the Wilsons felt God had called upon them to adopt Jason. But they were struggling to come up with $36,000 in adoption fees.
When a CNN story on China's abandoned children featured Jason in August, 2015 -- everything changed. The Wilsons raised the adoption money in eight hours.
And the following January, they went to China and brought Jason home.
Jeremiah was waiting for Jason at the airport last January when his parents wheeled him off the plane following a 20-hour journey from China. The boys laughed and raced their wheelchairs down the hallway.
They are now inseparable and their families have become close friends. The boys love to play and speak together in English, not their native Chinese.
At home, Jason shows off his new stander, which allows him to stand upright, spin, and reach cabinets and the fridge. He also has a new handbike, allowing him to pedal with his arms, donated by a US nonprofit.
"It's one of those things that you always hope happens but seldom comes together," Michael said.
"To see Jason with our kids and know they'll grow up and talk about this experience together for the rest of their lives -- you feel lucky to be able to watch it happen because it's so rare. It's so special."
photo of Catching up with JiaJia: CNN reunites with adopted orphan from China
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