It was the moment he’d been waiting for since his wife fell pregnant.
But little did new dad Samuel Forrest know he’d soon have to choose between his wife and his newborn son – because his baby was born with Down's Syndrome.
Little Leo Forrest was born on 21st January to an Armenian mother and his New Zealander father – but his mother (Samuel’s wife) refused to take him home because it would bring ‘shame’ upon her family.
She wouldn’t even look at or touch their new baby because she feared she would get attached to the tot, in a country where there is little understanding about disabilites.
The couple had no idea that their son had a disability – but dad Samuel knew straight away that he would not abandon their child.
“They took me in to see him and I looked at this guy and I said, he's beautiful, he's perfect and I'm absolutely keeping him,” he told ABC News.
But heartbreakingly, his wife (who we’ve chosen not to name), threatened him with divorce if he kept little Leo – which she’d already decided on before she’d met the baby.
She filed for divorce a week later.
The new single father soon set up a GoFundMe page for his disabled son, with the aim of returning to his native New Zealand where Leo can have a better quality of life.
“With little work, no money, resources or family, and now no home, his father Sam wants to return to New Zealand with Leo, where Leo can have a quality of life and acceptance, integration into society that sadly, is not yet possible in Armenia,” wrote Leo’s Support Team on the site.
“As a now solo father, Sam's aim is to raise enough money to be able to care for Leo fulltime himself for at least a year, to give him the love, cuddles & devotion he needs to thrive.
“Your support will help to ensure this gorgeous little guy has a chance at a normal life.”
In just nine days, supporters from all over the world helped Samuel to smash his $60,000 goal, raising more than $175,000 for Leo.
Messages of support came in thick and fast, with parents and relatives of Down's Syndrome babies praising his decision.
“This story brings so much light to the narrow minded thinking out there. We have come light years in this country,” wrote one supporter.
“When my brother was born in 1990 they handed my mom a brochure about Down's Syndrome and they said you could also give him up.
“This was in Boston! Now 25 years later - No hospital would ever do that. We are accepting and caring because children born with special needs, are gifts of joy brought into this world. Support now is given right away to families.”
In a thank you message Samuel posted today, February 6, he thanked the army of supporters for their generous donations, which ranged from $5 to $1000.
“Thanks everyone – we are stunned beyond words at the incredible support & love you’ve shown for little Leo,” he wrote.
“9 days after we started our campaign, Leo and I found out in the wee hours of morning that we had crossed our target! He is a lucky guy to have the support of thousands of friends like you around the world."
He added that the money will go towards helping to raise Leo in New Zealand, but also supporting orphanages for disabled babies in Armenia.
“Some of the additional funds that we have raised will be used to secure better living conditions in Auckland, and to give Leo higher quality opportunities when it comes to education - a good home and school cost money, but Leo will have all that and more, thanks to you," he wrote.
“We will use some of the money you've given to fund facilities and programs here in Armenia that will support future parents to keep their kids despite all disabilities, and to help better care for the special ones who end up away from their Mom & Dad.
“We’d also like to share the surplus funds with the only orphanage in Armenia that regularly takes abandoned Down's Syndrome babies as well as other organisations that can help these children – thanks to your support we can start to make a difference already.
“Thanks again for your care and generosity!”
He hopes that the support will draw attention to Armenia’s ‘hidden shame’ of the country’s ‘forgotten babies.’
His wife confirmed to BuzzFeed that she had a Down's Syndrome baby who is now with his father, but declined to give further details.
There is little understanding of disabilities in Armenia and in rural villages, children are often hidden from communities and denied access to education, according to a UNICEF report.
“In this tiny, landlocked country renowned for its' hospitality, scores of babies are abandoned each year, for reasons ranging from physical or intellectual disabilities and minor 'imperfections',” wrote Samuel on his GoFundMe page.
“This practice of abandoning children due to disabilities is unfortunately widespread throughout Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, resulting from a culture which refused to accept human defects.
“Health professionals estimate that 98 per cent of all Down's Syndrome babies born in Armenia are abandoned, every year. These abandoned babies are often placed in squalid orphanages, where they live and die, rejected and forgotten by society.”
To help support Samuel and Leo, please visit their GoFundMe page.