Single Mom Who Made It Her 'Life's Work' to Help Kids Adopts 7 Children with Special Needs (Exclusive)
"All of a sudden, it fell into place that I would grow my family by adopting kids with special needs," Debbie Sarich, a pediatric physical therapist, tells PEOPLE
Debbie Sarich always wanted a large family and as she neared her 40th birthday, the pediatric physical therapist decided to look into adoption. Today, she is the forever mom to seven children from around the world, all with special needs.
"All of a sudden, it fell into place that I would grow my family by adopting kids with special needs," Sarich exclusively tells PEOPLE. It made sense to her, because her job involves working with such children. "That's what I do every day, and I love it," she says.
She adds, "I have made it my life's work to provide physical therapy for these children, so why not open my heart and home to them as well?"
Sarich embarked on her first of several overseas trips to adopt, gradually growing her household thanks to daughters, Sadee, 12, Kaitlyn, 15, Lucy, 19, and Krasimira, 19, and sons Tray, 12, and Sergio, 16.
Her children were born in Guatemala, Russia, Bulgaria, Ethiopia, and China, and now live together outside Houston along with seven dogs, two cats, three aquatic turtles, and a fish tank.
"It's really fun," says Sarich, now 56. "I love having lots of kids, and the camaraderie that goes on with having lots of siblings."
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Sarich's four daughters have cerebral palsy, with one using a wheelchair. One son, Tray, has a prosthetic leg.
Daily life revolves around school, competitive sports, and Sarich's job at Texas Children's Hospital. "It's a little crazy," Sarich admits.
A typical day begins with a 5:30 a.m. wakeup, followed by breakfast, feeding the dogs, doing hair, doling out medicine, and getting on a couple of special needs buses that come to the family's driveway.
"Depending on the day, certain kids take a wheelchair, certain kids use crutches, and certain kids take walkers, but I have to make sure who's doing what this morning," Sarich says.
She tries to get the day off to a smooth start, but sometimes the schedule goes slightly awry. "Every once in a while one of my high schooler boys misses their bus and then I have to drive them," she says.
Several of her kids come to Texas Children's Hospital, where she works, for physical, occupational or speech therapy. On some days, they ride with their mom — "And then after three hours, I clock out of work for an hour and drive them to school and they come back to work."
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In between, Sarich, who is known for her compassion, treats her patients.
"Debbie has a huge heart," says Jay Mennel, a physical therapist and therapy manager at the hospital. "She has a huge compassion not only for her kids, but for her work."
Being a mom to kids with special needs gives Sarich a unique perspective, Mennel adds: "I think she is just an amazing clinician, an amazing mom."
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A former competitive field hockey player at Ohio University, Sarich has imparted her love of athletics to her children, who compete in para sport, which leads toward the Paralympics.
"I really want them competing in sport to give them goals and have them feel confident about their abilities," Sarich says. "And it's been a really positive thing in my kids' lives."
As with all parents of young athletes, getting to and from practice makes for busy after-school days and weekends. "But honestly, they love it," says Sarich, who takes pride in seeing how much sports mean to her brood. "They're like, 'Oh, I never thought I'd be able to race or run,' so it's really wonderful for them. It helps them build such confidence," she adds.
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While the kids all are from different backgrounds, they "all get along great" and have blended happily into one big loving Texas family.
The hustle and bustle is part of the fun, says the forever mom. "I just love it," Sarich says. "And I think it's beautiful and magical."
When her kids grow up and move on, what next? Will Sarich add more children to her family?
"I don't think I'm done with seven," she says. "I'm sure time will tell."
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