DENVER (CBS4) – An Australian couple accused of abandoning their Down syndrome baby in Thailand claim they never knew he existed, but the Thai surrogate who gave birth to him and his twin sister disagrees. She says the couple asked her to abort the boy, but she refused.
The baby not only has Down syndrome, he needs life-saving surgery for a congenital heart condition. He has been moved to one of Thailand’s advanced hospitals, and now there’s a campaign to have him brought to Australia for treatment.
The sad case has sparked international outrage. CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh found it is especially troubling to one Denver family.
Michelle Sie Whitten is an outspoken advocate for people with Down syndrome. She is the co-founder and executive director of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, and she is the loving mother of two children — one with Down syndrome.
Sophia Whitten plays beautiful music. It’s impressive for having just taken up piano this summer. And Sophia is a busy girl.
“I do swimming, I play games and piano and more stuff too,” Sophia said.
Sophia was born with Down syndrome. Her mother describes her, not as disabled, but “differently abled.”
“She loves to play with her brother, she has friends at school. You know she has a pretty darn good life,” Michelle said.
It’s a life Michelle was prompted to end when amniocentesis revealed Sophia’s genetic disorder.
“The counselor gave me a tissue and said, ‘Mrs. Whitten, please don’t cry — 80 to 90 percent of people terminate. You can, too.’ And that was my genetic counseling for Down syndrome,” Michelle said.
Instead, Michelle had Sophia and started a foundation that invests in medical care and research for people with Down syndrome. She was shocked to learn about Gammy, the Down syndrome baby left in Thailand with his surrogate mother while his Australian parents took his healthy twin sister home.
“It does make me a little bit angry to know that some parent in the world would disqualify my child and their child as not equal,” Michelle said.
Michelle doesn’t get discouraged. She believes education can change the ignorance and fear surrounding Down syndrome so that Sophia and others will have the chance to reach their potential.
Michelle says she wants to reach out to both the Australian couple and the surrogate mom to help them understand Down syndrome. An online campaign has already raised $200,000 to help with the baby’s medical care.