Charles and Eli Smith are trying to adopt Malcom, a child from Eastern Europe, but need to raise thousands first. To help, visit (J.D. Long-Garcia/CATHOLIC SUN)

Heidi Czerkes has given birth to three sons, but with each pregnancy, complications arose. When she and her husband Mike, an obstetrician-gynecologist, wanted to expand their family, they thought of adoption.

“Ever since I was little I felt called to adopt,” Heidi said. “After this last pregnancy, we started talking about it more, just praying about it to see if this was where we were being called in our family.”

At the time the couple first discussed adoption, they were living in Maine while Mike completed his residency. Their eldest son was attending a Catholic school that included a large number of interracial and adoptive families.

The Czerkes started asking school families about the adoption process. That led them to Reece’s Rainbow, an international adoption ministry geared toward children with Down Syndrome and other conditions.

“We always felt we had the ability to care for a child with special needs,” Heidi said. When they checked out the Reece’s Rainbow website and saw the photo gallery of children waiting to be adopted, they discovered Peter, a 2-year-old boy with Down Syndrome who has been living in a hospital in Hong Kong since he was 6 months old.

He’s currently in remission from AML, the form of leukemia that Downs kids are susceptible to, but he will require treatment for the next couple of years. The Czerkes say they want to make Peter part of their family.

“He needs a home and he needs a family,” Heidi said. Her husband agreed.

“These children are gifts from God,” Mike said.  “I think that they have special gifts that we’ll never understand. I look at all these children as God’s children and our children as well that we need to protect and bring home and make sure they have loving families.”

The Czerkes, who belong to St. Timothy Parish in Mesa, said they appreciate the birth mother’s choice.

“Part of our adoption journey has also been to thank these mothers for choosing life and to really validate that and to bring this child home,” Mike said.

Along the way, they’ve come to be friends with Eli and Charles Smith, who are trying to adopt a boy with special needs from Eastern Europe.

Malcom, who turns 5 this month, has cerebral palsy and was also featured on Reece’s Rainbow.

Knowing how expensive international adoptions can be — bringing Malcom home will require about $48,000, mostly in travel costs — the Smiths weren’t sure they’d be able to do more than contribute to help someone else adopt.

Then Charles saw a video of Malcom. “I saw it and I was sunk,” Charles said. “I fell in love and I thought, ‘I’ve got to bring him home.’” His wife Eli required no convincing.

“He needs us,” she said of Malcom. “He needs a safe place to become the man God intended he be and that he is destined to be.”

Time is of the essence in Malcom’s case. The practice in Eastern Europe, Eli said, is that after age 5, children are considered unadoptable and are placed in an institution with adults up to age 35. Although a volunteer in Russia has assured them that authorities have been notified that the boy’s “parents are coming,” the St. Thomas the Apostle parishioner still worries.

“It makes me cry just to sit here and think about it. I can’t imagine how you would throw somebody away at 5 years old,” Eli said.

The Smiths, who have managed to raise about $15,000 so far toward the cost of adoption, are completing their paperwork and other requirements and hope to have Malcom in their arms by next fall.

Social media — Facebook, blogs and Twitter — have played a big role in helping them raise money. They’re raffling off an iPad and a friend recently hosted an open house and auction.