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In 2005, a seemingly healthy newborn baby girl arrived in The Cradle nursery. Unfortunately, her clean bill of health was far from reality.

“When Tessa went for her first well baby check-up a day or two of coming to the Nursery, the doctor noticed something was wrong with her eye,” says Victoria Brooks, Nursery Director.


Written July 2014

At just three weeks old, Tessa was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma, a cancer affecting both of her eyes. Tessa began chemotherapy and other treatments intermittently.

For seven months, Tessa lived in the Nursery and fought her disease. During that time, The Cradle worked diligently to find Tessa a forever family.


Enter Dana and Mike Newman. Well-versed in adoption and special needs advocacy, Dana and Mike had adopted five children, two of whom had special needs, and they worked as advocates for agencies within the special needs adoption community.

Dana and Mike contacted the adoptive parent counselor working on Tessa’s case. The caseworker told them that she was certain they were the family for Tessa, given the diversity within their family and their experience with special needs children.

“We felt very comfortable. We have used other agencies and attorneys, but never ever have we had an experience like The Cradle,” Dana said. “They went above and beyond from the second she was born; from giving her very thorough care to always answering or getting back to us when we call.”


The Newmans drove from their farm in Arkansas to Illinois to meet the newest addition to their family. The Cradle helped them find accommodations for their time in Evanston and made sure they were well-equipped and completely prepared to bring Tessa home.

“The first time we saw Tess, she was lying down on a blanket playing and she was the most darling baby you ever saw,” Dana remembered. “We couldn’t understand how somebody hadn’t snatched her up. When we held her, she snuggled right into my arms and was so precious.”


When Tessa was about a year-and-a-half years old, the Newmans got a surprise phone call from The Cradle that Tessa’s birth mother had given birth to another little girl, who would become their Sophie.

“There’s a lot of loss in adoption,” Dana said. “A birth parent loses a child; that child loses their biological parent, and we didn’t want her to have to take another loss. So we said yes, of course.”


Five years later, Tessa is a healthy and cancer-free eight-and-a-half year old who enjoys playing baseball, dancing and riding horses. Sophie, who has no signs of the gene that codes for retinoblastoma, enjoys gardening and helps Dana grow most of the food their family eats.

Though the Newmans continued to welcome special needs children into their home after adopting Tessa and Sophie, they now feel their family is complete.

“Special needs kids absolutely must have a committed family,” Dana said. “It’s hard to find families willing to do this and it takes a lot of support and resources from places like The Cradle when children have anything a little bit different or something people are even a little unsure about.”

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