Foster care can be a complex puzzle — matching the needs of a child with the right family.
For one boy from Mississippi, that order seemed especially tall.
Justin was born at less than 26 weeks. A micro-preemie, one of his most significant health challenges was short bowl syndrome. Doctors believed Justin would need a multi-organ transplant. At the time, only two medical centers in the country could help: one in Boston and the other in Omaha.
"May of 2016. I was home and got an email from Christian Heritage saying there's a baby in Mississippi that needed to come up here," Justin's mom, Renata Girthoffer, recalled.
Justin spent the first 11 months of his life in a hospital bed in Mississippi. Foster care officials there wouldn't allow for a transfer to Nebraska until a foster family was confirmed.
Brian Rader was the foster care director for Christian Heritage at the time and remembers Justin's case well.
"He was a little over a year old. Hadn't even been out of the crib. He didn't know how to walk, he didn't know how to crawl," Rader said.
Now six years old, Justin is thriving. He didn't need a multi-organ transplant after all. His mom reflected on one defining conversation with a member of their medical team at Nebraska Medicine, Doctor David Mercer.
"Dr. Mercer said, '(Justin) does not need a transplant. He was going down a transplant lane and he went this way.' He goes, 'What (Justin) needed was a mom and dad to take care of him.'"
Love has helped Justin blossom. His personality shines as he talks about his favorite toys, foods, and activities — tops on that list are trips to Target.
He also enjoys playing with his older brother and sister, and their dog, Lucky.
Including finding the Girthoffers, Rader describes what's happened with Justin as a years-long sequence of miracles.
"It was just exciting to see and figure out what we needed to do, and just one thing at a time, things started happening."
Including foster care, Christian Heritage offers three programs. Information about those programs, as well as the organization's upcoming event — Light the Night, a drive-thru Christmas light spectacular — is available here: Foster Care Services in Nebraska | Christian Heritage.