Starving orphan who weighed 8 pounds at age 7 completely transforms
It's hard to imagine a 7-year-old boy weighing 8 pounds — especially for this Tennessee mom, who knew she had to rescue the emaciated boy living at an orphanage when she first saw his picture.
"The first meeting was pretty scary," said Priscilla Morse of Nashville, recalling the first time she set foot into the Bulgarian orphanage to adopt little Ryan. She said she originally thought the nurses had brought her to the wrong boy, since Ryan appeared too small for his age.
"He was bones and skin, he literally looked like a skeleton," Morse told InsideEdition.com. "The first thing that went through my head was, 'he's going to die.'"
Morse, 33, said she had been scrolling through Facebook when she first saw Ryan's photo.
Ryan, who weighed only eight pounds when he was 7 years old, had veins that were visible through his thin skin. His body was covered in hair, a clear sign of malnutrition.
Morse, who was adopted herself as a child, said she immediately thought of her older brother, whom she only knew briefly until he died at 9 years old.
"I was pretty young when he passed away, [but] I remember how much my parents loved him in spite of all his special needs," she said. "I wanted to give that to a child that was given up because of his special needs. Everyone is deserving of a family."
When she traveled to Bulgaria to pay little Ryan a visit, she didn't think he would survive until the papers were processed.
She explained Ryan was hardly fed at the orphanage, and when he did eat, "he would throw it back up to mimic feeding. He didn't trust that there was food coming in the orphanage, so he learned to regurgitate food to stay alive."
Over time, Morse bonded with the boy.
"By the second or third visit, we were swinging him around and tickling him. For being as tiny as he was, he wasn't as fragile I thought he originally was. He enjoyed the interaction," she said.
Sure enough, Ryan made it back to Nashville in November 2015.
She and her husband went straight from the airport to the Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, where doctors and specialists were waiting.
"I had never in my life seen doctors look at a child and burst into tears," she recalled. "They did call social services. They said, 'I'm sorry, he's probably going to die.'"
Ryan had refeeding syndrome, which has made it difficult for Ryan to digest nutrients his body was not used to consuming, and he has held on to habits of throwing up his food.
"He had conditioned himself that this was the only way he could feel full," Morse said.
They also discovered Ryan has cerebral palsy, microcephaly, dwarfism, scoliosis, severely clubbed feet, and special needs he may have developed in the orphanage.
Morse explained he often bangs his wrists, or waves his hands in front of his face since they were his only toys growing up. He is also non-verbal, Caters News reported.
But, doctors were able to fit him with a feeding tube that connected straight into his intestines, and after several months of good progress, they were able to enroll him in public school as a third grader, where he continues to work toward goals set by his doctors.
Although Morse believes it will take years for Ryan to fully recover from the psychological damage, she said her son has started making good progress, including enunciating words, taking bites out of cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving and has even begun bonding with his other siblings, including a 7-year-old sister, who has Down syndrome and was adopted from a Russian orphanage.
He has even gained 15 pounds in the last 13 months.
"You can tell he's just a happy little boy. He looks like he has hope now," Morse said. "People write off special needs kids because it looks scary, but these kids are worth it. They truly deserve to be loved like any other kid."