BOONE LIFE: Family gives foster children a place to call home

Monday, March 1, 2010 | 11:19 a.m. CST
Paul and Karen Heywood have had a licensed foster home since 1999, caring for more than 25 different children.

STURGEON — The home of Paul and Karen Heywood is the definition of a full house.

Their household of eight includes 19-year-old Shalia, 15-year-old Kalia, 13-year-old Devon, 5-year-old Andrew, 5-year-old Ireailla and Alex, Shaila's infant son.

Shalia, Kalia, Devon and Ireailla were all foster children the Heywoods adopted. They haven't formally adopted Andrew, but their relationship with him is no different. Andrew has been a part of their family for four years, and they said that won't change.

According to the Missouri Department of Social Services, there are 2,856 licensed foster homes in Missouri. The Heywoods' home in Sturgeon has been one since 1999, and since then, they have cared for about 30 foster children.

Andrew and Ireailla, the two youngest children both have special medical needs.

Andrew has nonketotic hyperglycinemia, which is a rare, incurable metabolic disorder. He was not expected to live past the age of 2, but he will turn 6 in April.

Neither one speaks. Andrew can't speak because of the disorder, and Ireailla just won't use words. Both Andrew and Ireailla have to be fed through tubes several times a day.

On good days, the Heywood house is filled with laughter and happy voices — especially Ireailla's as she plays with her dolls or her siblings.

Devon loves to play and dance to Michael Jackson with Ireailla. The two have a special bond, and Devon brags he can speak Ireailla's language. Ireailla likes to get Andrew out of his wheelchair and lie with him on the floor. And everyone loves to play with Alex.

The older kids pitch in to make sure that Andrew and Ireailla get the care and attention they need. Kalia helps her father make dinner and take care of the younger siblings. Shalia takes Devon to his Special Olympics basketball practice.

On bad days, you can hear Andrew screaming. His screams are heartbreaking, but there is nothing that can be done except hold him until he feels better.

Karen Heywood works as an English professor at Stephens College, and Paul Heywood is a stay-at-home dad. He decided to quit his job at the post office three years ago, when the family took in Ireailla.

"Everybody, I think, should give something back in their life," he said. "It's our small way of, you know, helping out."

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