BRIGHTON, Mich. - It started with a picture of a sick little boy on the other side of the world.
"Just his little chubby cheeks and his cute little face would have caught my eye and caught my heart," said Sandy Kreps of Brighton, Mich.
Sandy was looking at the blog of a mother who had adopted three boys from China.
"She posted Darren's picture on her blog with a little information about how he needed heart surgery and needed a family and was his family out there," said Sandy.
Sandy and her husband Erik already had six children, including two adopted in the United States. But there was something about Darren.
"I brought that up to Erik and said, 'Hey, what do you think?'" said Sandy.
"I said it was a bad idea," said Erik.
They both laugh about it now, but at the time, Erik brought up all of the many challenges an international adoption would entail.
"The cost is too high. There is tremendous red tape, and we have never done international, all of those other things," said Erik. "Of course, she said that he will die without help, and I couldn't come up with anything that would counter that."
They prayed for guidance.
"We had learned that we were the only family that had inquired about him at all," said Erik.
"We just really felt that God was calling us to adopt Darren," said Sandy.
Adopting Darren would cost about $30,000. The Kreps began raising money, even holding bake sales.
And then, there was Darren's heart condition.
"You look at the pictures, and you see that their lips are blue, fingers are blue and you wonder how it is day to day in that orphanage waiting," said Sandy.
They learned that Darren had been left as an infant in the waiting room of a Chinese hospital. Pinned to him was a note that read, "We hope the kind people can help him."
"They probably couldn't afford the surgery that he needed, so they left him somewhere he could get help," said Sandy.
Help was coming, but would the Kreps be able to get there in time for Darren to have the surgery he needed to save his life?
"You hear of the kids that die before their family gets there," said Sandy.
The adoption process took seven months, and last November, Sandy and their oldest daughter Madeline traveled to China to bring Darren home.
"It's just an unreal experience. One day you don't have the child and the next day, there he is, and he is almost four," said Sandy.
"Since that first day, he hasn't stop joking and laughing," said Erik.
The entire family was waiting to welcome Darren home. The Kreps don't speak Chinese, so at first, they relied on charades to communicate.
"He knew 'Momma.' In Chinese, that is the same word," said Sandy. "Other than that, he didn't know any English."
Months later, Darren now speaks fluent English. He loves cars and trains, playing with his siblings, and riding his new bike.
He has also developed a very American obsession.
"He does have sort of this 'McDonald's radar' where every time we're driving by, he identifies where all the McDonald's are," joked Erik.
In February, Darren underwent a complicated surgery at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital to repair his heart.
He spent 16 days in the hospital, including three in a medically induced coma. His new mom never left his side. He's since made a full recovery.
"If you didn't see the scar on his chest, you would never know that he ever had any issues," said Erik.
Darren will need regular checkups for his heart, and he will likely need another surgery down the road as he grows bigger. But right now, he's on no medications and has no restrictions on his activity.
There are, however, some lingering hints of his former life.
"He loved just having his own stuff. They didn't have that at the orphanage," said Erik. "Early on, as one of his security items, he would carry a little bottle of water because they only had regimented times that they could get water. So he loved to be able to get water whenever he wanted."
Sandy still thinks of all of the children still waiting in the orphanage.
"I definitely know that we can't adopt a dozen more kids, but I guess I feel like maybe one more."
For now, they're grateful to God and the doctors at U of M, for giving their new son a new lease on life.
"The biggest blessing that we received in our life is our family," said Erik. "He has the chance to be just like everybody else."
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