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Prinsburg couple cares for their three special needs children at home

With a special needs child of their own, Sandy and Chuck Leininger of Prinsburg have welcomed two special needs children from Haiti to their family, Chelda, left, age 9, and Josiah, age 4. (Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny)1 / 5
Joshua Leininger, 17, lives with cerebral palsy. Caring for him led the Leiningers to discover the rewards that come with caring for special needs children. (Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny)2 / 5
Sandy and Chuck Leininger, of Prinsburg, purchased this specially equipped van with a mechanical lift to transport their three special needs children. Here 9-year-old Chelda is set in place on the lift. Proceeds from a fundraiser next week will go toward the cost of the van. (Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny)3 / 5
Believing he would not survive a condition that had caused his brain to swell, Josiah's biological family had placed him at Children of Promise orphanage in Haiti. He was brought to the U.S. seeking medical care and an adoptive family. (Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny)4 / 5
Chelda starts each day with a smile and loves to laugh, her family says. She had been with two different families before the Children of the Promise orphanage brought her into the Leiningers' life. (Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny)5 / 5

PRINSBURG -- Sandy and Chuck Leininger are parents to six children of their own, all of them grown.

Their last child, Joshua, now 17, suffered oxygen deprivation and lives with cerebral palsy. He requires a wheelchair, needs daily medications to control seizures, and has a variety of other special needs.

Yet there was no hesitation when just over three years ago the Prinsburg couple welcomed another special needs child to their family and home, Josiah, now age 4.

No hesitation one year ago either, when shortly after the earthquake that devastated Haiti, they welcomed a second special needs child from that country, Chelda, now age 9.

At ages 48 and 51, the Prinsburg couple know well the challenges they face as caregivers to three special needs children in their home.

But they also know the rewards. Hence, the lack of hesitation in making two children from Haiti part of their lives.

"We enjoy it, we want to do it,'' said Chuck.

As Sandy explained it, the rewards can come in unexpected ways, like the time that Josiah's torrid fever finally dropped a bit. He started to giggle again, like his old self.

Or as Chuck explained, the rewards come every morning when he wakes up Chelda and he sees what she will bring to another day. "She wakes up every morning with a smile,'' he said, adding: "She loves to laugh.''

That the two Haitian orphans can be known for their infectious smiles and laughter are miracles of their own.

Josiah was born with a condition that blocked the movement of fluid in his brain, causing his head to swell like a melon and causing a wide range of disabilities, including permanent loss of vision. He would have died, as his biological family in Haiti had no means to obtain the costly medical care he needed.

They delivered him to the Children of the Promise orphanage in Haiti so that he might know some comfort in his final days. A volunteer nurse took up his cause and arranged to have a shunt placed in his head and save his life.

Jan and Bud Bonnema of Prinsburg helped found the orphanage, and brought Josiah to the U.S. for medical care with hopes of finding a family to adopt him. When the Leiningers learned that no one had come forward to adopt Josiah, they did.

Chelda's medical challenges are no less challenging than Josiah's, and her story every bit as compelling. She had been with two different families before Jan Bonnema and the Children of the Promise brought her into the Leiningers' life.

There were and still are plenty of challenges. The young children can suffer seizures, and there are times in the middle of the night when they just need someone to hold and comfort them. They need help with feeding, their diapers changed and someone to give them a regimen of medicines every day.

A personal care attendant assists through the week and every other weekend, and the children attend school. That makes it possible for Chuck to maintain his full-time work with an area turkey farm, and Sandy her part-time job as a bank teller.

Still, demands on their time only grow now that their own children have grown and moved on with their lives.

Two of their biological children and sons-in-law live nearby and lend their helping hands as they can, as does a daughter in college.

And now, the Leiningers have found help is being offered from an entire community.

Though it came with a hefty price tag at $35,000, the Leiningers invested in a specially equipped van that is also large enough to safely accommodate three wheelchairs holding Josiah, and Chelda and Joshua. They make frequent trips to the Gillette Medical Center in the Twin Cities with the three. And of course, there's just the need to get around to school and places in town.

The van has a wheelchair lift, something the Leiningers know will become increasingly important as the children grow and they age. The time is coming when they will no longer be able to lift the wheelchair-bound children on their own.

They consider the 2005 Dodge Sprinter an answer to their prayers. Others see it as the chance to turn their own prayers into action.

Many in the Unity Christian Reformed Church in Prinsburg have long been humbled by the Leiningers' acts of self-sacrifice and love, according to Sarah Brouwer, chair of the church's Unity Missions Team.

"The least we can do as they care full time for these children is to help them cover the cost of their special-needs van,'' she said.

Fundraiser details

The fundraiser is planned from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Unity Christian Reformed Church in Prinsburg with a taco dinner and silent auction. All of the proceeds will go to help with the costs for the van.

Tax-deductible donations can also be sent to: United Christian Reformed Church, P.O. Box 266, Prinsburg, MN 56281

To learn more about the fundraiser, see the silent auction items and photos of the children, go to the facebook link with this story.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335